State health officials prepare for COVID-19 vaccine in coming months, despite ‘unlikely’ timeline

COVID-19 diagnostic panel (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is prepared to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as early as November, according to Alaska’s Immunization Program Manager, Matthew Bobo.

Last week [9/3], the federal government asked states to be ready to distribute a vaccine by November, but advisors in charge of the federal government’s vaccine development say it’s extremely unlikely a vaccine would be available by then, according to NPR. 

Alaska’s state health department has put together a working group to determine how to deploy the vaccine to Alaskans. It will go out in three phases, Bobo said Friday during a news conference with reporters.  

“We expect during phase 1 and phase 2, the supply will be constrained, so limited doses available,” Bobo said.

Essential workers will have access to the vaccine first, then high-risk individuals, and then the rest of the population.

Read the latest coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in Alaska

Bobo said he expects the federal government will release the vaccine under an emergency use authorization, or EUA. States do have the ability to require vaccinations, but under an EUA that isn’t possible. 

“Under an EUA you cannot make the vaccine required,” Bobo said. “So it would need to be licensed by the FDA before it can become a requirement by an employer, school, state, etc.”   

The vaccine will only be available to adults. A COVID-19 vaccine for children or pregnant women will not be available until next year or later, Bobo says, depending on clinical trials. 

The state has seen a decline in orders for other vaccines, which could be a concern Bobo said. Since the first health mandate was issued in March, the immunization program saw a 69 percent decrease in total doses ordered compared to last year and a 48 percent decrease in the total doses administered. Bobo said the decrease is most evident in older children, adolescents, and adults. 

Although classes are being held in a variety of formats, Bobo said up to date immunizations are still required for children in all school settings. He also said getting a flu vaccine, which is not required, is still a good idea and “extremely important this year” to help preserve medical resources for fighting the pandemic.  

“We don’t want an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease like measles during COVID-19,” Bobo said.”