Path to a vaccine: how it will be distributed in Southern New England
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon, but there’s more work to be done.
“Half the battle is having the vaccine, but the other half is getting it out to the people that need it,” said Rhode Island Department of Health Medical Director Dr. Phillip Chan.
Pfizer has chosen Rhode Island as one of only four states for its immunization pilot program. It’s because the Ocean State is small, but mighty when it comes to having immunization infrastructure and high vaccination rates.
“We’re not, unfortunately, going to be getting vaccine early, we don’t think, from Pfizer,” Dr. Chan said. “But we’re working out all the kinks in the system, making sure the supply chains are working.”
One challenge? The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius, or negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We’ve been surveying a lot of different partners to find out where ultra-cold storage exists in the state,” said Alysia Mihalakos, Chief of Rhode Island’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response. “We’ve built some contracts with partners so we can build additional capacity.”
And once those logistics are ironed out comes the most important part, getting the vaccine to you. Rhode Island already has a plan for that, done in three phases.
Phase One will include healthcare workers, first responders and those with the most serious comorbidities, along with the elderly.
Phase Two will include teachers, school staff, and childcare providers, critical workers, those with moderate comorbidities, and all older adults.
And finally Phase Three will include young adults, children and all workers important to “functioning society”.
“We’ll be working with all of the leaders of the organizations to try to get people scheduled appropriately and get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Mihalakos said. “When vaccine becomes more widely available we do anticipate that there will be opportunities to get vaccinated at your pharmacy like you can for the flu shot.”
Of course timelines can’t be made until Rhode Island officials know how much vaccine will be available and when.
Supplies and equipment, like syringes and PPE, won’t be a problem as there’s plenty on hand. But the state has to adapt when it comes to the points-of-dispensing in local municipalities.
“We know they can’t have as many vaccinators, for instance, as their original plans entailed, because of social distancing,” Mihalakos said. “So we’re testing a lot of that right now during seasonal flu clinics to see what works and what doesn’t.”
And whether the vaccine effort works or doesn’t ultimately depends on whether enough people trust it.
That’s where the experts on the vaccine subcommittee come in to evaluate more scientific data and ensure an extra layer of safety beyond the federal government.
“The level of misinformation that is on social media, that is out there, is just absolutely horrific,” said vaccine subcommittee member Dr. Pablo Rodriguez. “We are not going to be successful if we are not trusted by the community. We are not going to be successful if we cannot get the majority of the population vaccinated.”
It’s a similar effort in Massachusetts.
“In anticipation of the approval of one or more COVID-19 vaccines, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is working with the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group to advance efforts to prepare for the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine once it becomes available,” said a DPH spokesperson. “The advisory group is developing plans for the equitable and speedy distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to Massachusetts communities, based on guidance provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’’