Public health officials across the United States are preparing for the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history.
That is because they are likely to approve within weeks a vaccine against the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
As a result, they will need to give out hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine and decide who gets the vaccine first. The effort will involve making sure people who get the first vaccine shot return for the second one, which is required.
Drug maker Pfizer recently raised hopes by saying early trials suggest its vaccine is 90 percent effective.
The biotechnology company Moderna reported success Monday with a second vaccine in a major study. The company said the vaccine appears to be 95 percent effective, based on early data.
The push could begin as early as next month, when federal officials say the first vaccine may be approved for emergency use. Federal officials have stated that, once that happens, they will immediately provide doses to high-risk groups, such as health care workers.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the top infectious disease expert in the U.S. He said last week that he hopes all Americans will be able to get shots in April, May and June.
In Philadelphia, the health department is counting how many health care workers and others would be among the first to receive the vaccine. In Louisiana, officials are planning an online exercise to test different situations and see how the process might work.
If you get 10,000 doses, what are you going to do? What about 100,000 doses? Those are questions Dr. Frank Welch thinks about. He is director of Louisiana’s immunization program.
Similar preparations are happening at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For the vaccination effort to get started, state officials have been readying systems to track supplies. They also will carefully record who has been vaccinated. That information will be placed into a national network.
Vaccine providers such as pharmacies and doctors’ offices will also need to be able to use the records. That way, people do not have to return to the same place for their second shot. More than one vaccine could also become available, and doses cannot be mixed.
“We not only have to bring people back for a second dose, but need to make sure that we have very good records of which vaccine they received the first time,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan of Maryland’s health department. States already have immunization registries, which will be used for COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, wanted providers to report the race and ethnic group of the people they vaccinate. The goal is to better understand whether high-risk groups are getting vaccinated. But pharmacies and other providers objected.
We have to be careful not to give providers too many duties, Mitchel Rothholz told the Associated Press. He is with the American Pharmacists Association, an industry group. He said providers have been told they will have the choice to leave that information out.
Providers will also have to report vaccination information every day. This will be a change for those that usually enter it weekly or less often, state officials said.
To help people find doses in their area, the CDC wants to put information on a website. The site will be updated each day.
Supplying information on how many doses are available might be difficult for some providers. That includes a hospital in Utah that said it only has one person who currently enters the information, said Jon Reid. Reid supervises the state’s immunization registry.
States are also working to expand the number of pharmacies, doctors’ offices and other providers that can give COVID-19 vaccine shots.
But registration can take time, Reid said. That is because providers often need help filling out documents. They also need help getting technical systems working and going through inspections to ensure they can meet storage requirements. For example, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.
Reid does not expect smaller pharmacies to become COVID-19 vaccinators for this reason.
Moderna’s vaccine, however, does not need extreme-cold storage. This makes it easier to transport. Moderna says the vaccine can be kept at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for 30 days. And it can be stored for up to 6 months at minus-20 degrees Celsius.
Both vaccines require people to receive two shots, several weeks apart. So the CDC is considering ways to help Americans remember the second shot.
Getting the vaccine to people is another problem. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, comes in shipments of nearly 1,000 doses. That requirement makes it difficult to get smaller places vaccinated, said Rich Lakin. He is director of Utah’s immunization program.
Health care workers may have to drive to a hospital to get the vaccine doses, Lakin said.
In North Dakota, providers receiving fewer than 1,000 doses will have them shipped to a state storage center that can keep the vaccine extremely cold.
We will divide them into the smaller amounts and then drive them to the provider, said Molly Howell. She is the state’s immunization director.
But even if things go smoothly, officials worry people will not want the shots. Patrick Peer operates the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus, Nebraska. “If there’s going to be any real challenge, to be honest with you, it’s going to be convincing folks to get the vaccine,” he said.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
And I’m Alice Bryant.
This story combines information from two Associated Press reports. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
dose –n. the amount of a medicine, drug or vitamin that needs to be taken at one time
immunization –n. to give a person a vaccine to prevent infection that causes a disease
track –v. to follow and watch the progress of a process or project
minus –adj. having a value that is below zero, of example, of a temperature
challenge –n. a difficult task or problem to be solved
convince –v. to persuade someone to do something