Most States Are Not Ready to Distribute Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

The good news that Pfizer has developed an effective COVID-19 vaccine Monday has challenged many states governments’ plans to distribute the product to its residents. The Pfizer vaccine, which has been shown to be more than 90% effective in protecting against the virus,  must be stored in ice-cold temperatures of minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and must be administered in 2 doses given 28 days apart.

According to ProPublica, the complicated supply and delivery system has many states stymied. Once the dry iced-packed cartons that contain the vaccine have been opened, the 1,000 to 5,000 dose capacity containers can keep the material viable for 5 days. In large central hospitals, it may not be a problem to administer all the doses within the allotted time frame, but in rural areas, it could present a challenge.

Gen. Gustave Perna, a U.S. Army General who is leading the federal government vaccine initiative, Operation Warp Speed, told NPR that if the Food and Drug Administration approves the vaccine by December then “10 to 30 million doses of vaccine will be available that we can start distributing.”

According to The Hill, a comprehensive report outlining the “efficient manufacturing, financing, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine,” said that given the recommendation of two doses per person, we’ll need 462 million doses to achieve herd immunity and 660 million doses for the entire U.S. population. The report, submitted by the Center for American Progress, said that the government has not released a comprehensive vaccine plan.

But the problem is that even if the federal government can distribute the vaccine to individual states, it then becomes their responsibility to determine who, when and how their residents get the shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked state governments to submit their distribution plans by November 2, and according to ProPublica, there are already major issues.

For example, Washington state’s health department reported in its plan that it does not have the required “refrigerated, frozen, or ultra-cold storage capacity” to store the vaccine. Other states, such as Arizona, said they do not have a way to supply rural communities and tribal lands with the drug.

Dr. Amanda Cohn, chief medical officer for the CDC’s Vaccine Task Force, acknowledged these difficulties.

“Early, when we don’t have a lot of doses, I frankly do not anticipate that vaccine will be widely available in every rural community,” she said, according to ProPublica. Experts warn that the vaccine’s efficacy in populations such as seniors has not yet been published, which is concerning for people in nursing homes, especially those in rural areas.

Shipping and other logistics need to be fine-tuned to get the vaccine to Americans equally and equitably. The changing details make it hard to make a decisive plan, said healthcare experts. CDC director Robert Redfield has asked Congress for $6 billion to provide equipment for vaccine distribution, but negotiations stalled ahead of the election, according to ProPublica. CDC data shows that only 3%, or $200 million, has been allocated by the federal government.

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