The Howard County Health Department is in the midst of preparing for the arrival and eventual distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
While county officials are unsure which vaccine Howard County will be receiving, as both are pending approval, or how many doses they will get, they’ve been working on a plan for storage and distribution. Officials are hopeful the vaccine will arrive yet this winter.
According to Howard County Public Health Emergency Coordinator Kristina Sommers, the vaccine will be distributed through both local hospitals, Ascension St. Vincent Kokomo and Community Howard Regional Health, as well as long-term care facilities. Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be kept at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, but Sommers said both hospitals have the capabilities to hold the doses they receive properly. Dry ice will be used during transport and, in some instances, be used to keep the vaccine cold while being distributed, something Sommers said the health department was prepared for.
In Indiana, the vaccine will be introduced in three phases. According to information sent to county health departments by the Indiana Department of Health, Phase 1A will provide vaccines to employees working in healthcare settings with a higher risk of coming into contact with COVID-19, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, pharmacies, dialysis centers, and more.
Phase 1B will focus on protecting high-risk and vulnerable individuals, such as those with a high morbidity rate.
During Phase 2, the goal will be to mitigate the spread of the virus by vaccinating those with a high-risk potential of spreading COVID-19, either through working or living conditions. These individuals include those living in correctional facilities, group homes or shelters, and essential workers where social distancing is not possible where the risk of transmission is high.
Vaccinations for the general public will begin in Phase 3, though state public health officials have said that is still some time away.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will require two doses to be fully effective, with the Pfizer doses being 21 days apart and the Moderna doses being 28 days apart. Sommers stressed the importance of understanding which vaccine patients receive and to be sure to receive both doses properly.
“I believe even after the second dose, it still takes time for your body to build that immunity, just like with the flu vaccine,” said Sommers. “It’s not like the day you get the flu vaccine you’re immune to the flu for the season. It takes a couple of weeks. That’s why they’re always with the flu, they’re like, ‘Get it before, in September if you can. That way you’re getting it before the flu is really circulating in the area.’ Unfortunately, COVID is already circulating, but you wouldn’t want to get even your second dose, and say, ‘Oh, I’m good,’ because it’s still going to take a couple of weeks because that’s just how your body works.”
Both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines are yielding strong results, with the vaccines being touted as being 90 percent and 94.5 percent effective respectively.
Sommers called the testing that the vaccines have gone through “rigorous,” and the vaccines will be approved again by state committees before they’re distributed. The vaccines only will be given to the populations in which they were studied, and they currently haven’t been studied in children and pregnant women.
“They’re still going through the rigorous testing,” Sommers said. “They did the phase one trials. They did the phase two trials. And now they’re doing the phase three trials with thousands of people in them. And the vaccine, when they release it, they’re not releasing it to people who were not in those groups, such as children and pregnant women. So, they really do want to make sure the vaccines work in the populations that they studied it in.
“So, they will continue to collect information, just like they do with any vaccine after it comes out and is given to the public outside of the trials. But they’re making sure it’s only given to the population that it was tested in and not just going, ‘Oh, well, this vaccine works, so we’ll just give it to anybody now.’”
The testing of the vaccines, Sommers said, was extensive. Research for the vaccine began in the early 2000s with the onset of SARS, and vaccination research ensued after that outbreak. COVID-19 is an offset of that, often referred to as SARS-CoV-2. Sommers said that the two are closely related and that if the original epidemic years earlier had continued as the current one has, a vaccine probably would have arrived much sooner.
Correction: The version in this week's print edition states that the vaccine should be arriving in spring or summer. This is incorrect as local officials are hoping to receive vaccines yet this winter.