We have been hearing some really positive things in the media recently about the development of COVID-19 vaccines. This news has been very exciting for the many people who are anxiously waiting for a vaccine to become available. With case numbers on the rise, it is no wonder that people are encouraged by the idea of a vaccine being approved before the New Year.
Understandably, there are those who are concerned about a new vaccine. For this reason, it is important to discuss the State’s plans for vaccine distribution, as well as what we should expect over the next several months. After all, it is important that Skagitonians have all the necessary information so that each individual can make an informed decision about the health and safety of themselves, and their loved ones.
Why is a vaccine important?
Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough. Vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. A COVID-19 vaccine will help to protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience sickness.
How are vaccines vetted for safety and effectiveness?
The speed in which these vaccines have been developed and the newness of the technology can seem scary to some. It is important to understand that safety has in no way been compromised, even with a quicker development timeline. Rather than eliminating steps from traditional development timelines, steps are being conducted simultaneously.
Clinical trials are currently underway to evaluate investigational COVID-19 vaccines. These clinical trials include thousands of study participants to generate scientific data and other information for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This data is then analyzed to determine safety and effectiveness.
These clinical trials are being conducted according to the FDA’s rigorous standards. If it is determined that a vaccine meets the FDA’s safety and effectiveness standards, it can make these vaccines available for use by approval or Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
An EUA allows the FDA to make a product available during a declared state of emergency before it has a full license. So far, two vaccine manufacturers have applied for emergency use authorization, however the FDA has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine. If EUAs are approved, these vaccines will then be vetted by the Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, as part of the Western States Pact.
Even once a vaccine is approved for use, there are vaccine safety monitoring systems in place to track any possible side effects. If an unexpected adverse event is seen, experts quickly study it further to assess whether it is a true safety concern. Experts then decide whether changes are needed in vaccine recommendations.
When is a vaccine going to be available?
As of right now, we don’t have an exact date. The timeline is based on when an FDA-approved, safe and effective vaccine is available.However, WA DOH is hopeful that a vaccine will be available to begin administering by mid-December 2020.
There is a lot of planning taking place at the federal, state, and local level around vaccine distribution. In October, Washington State submitted its interim vaccine distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for approval. In Skagit County, the Public Health Department and its community partners are currently discussing plans for distribution—including logistics, as well as messaging.
Who will receive the vaccine when it first arrives?
Manufacturing, distribution, and administration will all take time. The availability of the vaccine, as well as local capacity to vaccinate people, will directly impact the timeline for distribution.
Washington State’s vaccination plan is tiered to focus on specific groups early on. Included in the first phase are those at highest risk. This is to ensure that these individuals will receive the vaccination as soon as possible.
Based on recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine, these high-risk individuals include: health care workers at high risk for COVID-19; first responders at high risk for COVID-19; and people with underlying health conditions that put them at a significantly higher risk for COVID-19.
The second phase would expand to include more people, including school and child care staff, as well as people of any age who have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness.
Most healthy adults shouldn’t expect to be vaccinated until phase three or four. We expect more information for groups such as children and pregnant women to be available in the coming months.
Where can I go for more information?
There is so much information right now about the COVID-19 vaccine, but there is also a lot of speculation and misinformation. It is so crucial that we seek out credible information! Please turn to trusted sources for health information, including your healthcare provider and public health experts.
For general questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, email WA DOH at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, you can contact Skagit County Public Health with any of your COVID-19 questions (360-416-1500).