We've been hearing for weeks how supply will be limited at first for any approved COVID vaccine. The experts think once something gets approved, enough vaccines for 20 million people will be available before the end of the year. But even that will take time.
In the first week after the FDA grants emergency approval for a COVID vaccine, only enough 6.4 million doses will be available. If you're thinking that's not much, it's not. For context, there are 21 million health care workers in America who may be first in line for vaccines.
On Tuesday, Operation Warp Speed offered clarity on the government's plans for an initial rollout of an approved vaccine.
"Hope and help are on the way,"Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.
Both the Defense Department and Pfizer have been holding "dry runs" in more than a dozen jurisdictions, rehearsing the "where" part of distribution. Once a vaccine is approved, any state will be able to go to a secure online site, order vaccine doses, and decide which vaccination locations to ship to: places like doctors offices, hospitals, or pharmacies. At a minimum, one location could get 100 doses of a Moderna vaccine, 975 doses of a Pfizer one. The maximum number of doses is decided by a state's adult population. More can be ordered on a weekly basis.
"The governors will determine distribution within their states, prioritization within their states, where to ship to," Azar said.
6.4 million doses will be ready to go week one, with 40 million by the end of December. Keep in mind though, anyone getting a vaccine will need two doses. Depending on where you live, people will get things like cards or text messages to remind them about their second dose, a booster that comes a few weeks after the first.
Cold storage has been a concern. The Moderna vaccine can stay for up to 30 days in -20 degrees Celsius storage. That’s similar to a typical kitchen freezer, which most pharmacies have. Pfizer's shots need to stay below -70 degrees Celsius in an ultra-cold freezer. Most of those are only available in hospitals and cost about $10,000. The drugmaker plans to supplement that by using boxes with dry ice to keep it cold for up to 20 days.
"We feel confident that if states plan to the right dosage at the right locations, that the drumbeat, the cadence, the administration of vaccine to the minimum amount, which is 975 doses, is very doable within the 20 days," said Gen. Gus Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
As far as who gets a vaccine first, there's a lot of expert input. An FDA advisory committee will meet on Dec. 10 to review Pfizer's vaccine. They'll meet again on Dec. 17 to consider Moderna's. Then following FDA emergency approval, a CDC vaccine advisory committee will meet and issue its own recommendations on who gets the first vaccinations. Among those expected to be first: health care workers, those in nursing homes, first responders or those most at risk of getting severely sick from COVID.
But ultimately, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says governors will make the call on who is at the front of the line. Even with an approved COVID vaccine, it's so important to continue public health measures like wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing. As the coronavirus spreads out of control across the country, doctors are pleading with the public to take these steps to help.
"We need to do the things now to try to help control it. And so we can celebrate those holidays later," said Dr. John Hammer, infectious disease specialist at Rose Medical Center.
Will people be willing to get this vaccine though? Secretary Azar says vaccine acceptance is up since the election and that health departments and public health groups are working on public education efforts. Azar added he'd get vaccinated as soon as possible to show his confidence in it.