State vaccine task force plans include ‘backup plans for our backup plans’

Several syringes on a table
Influenza vaccines (Creative Commons photo)

Alaska submitted a draft plan last week for how it will distribute a coronavirus vaccine to communities, once the vaccine becomes available. 

The plan was submitted by a state task force made up of officials from the Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. 

The plan will now be reviewed by the CDC. 

Alaska’s plan emphasizes the state’s unique geography and infrastructure, with 80% of its communities off the road system. 

Canceled flight service has delayed vaccine distribution to some communities in the past, according to the plan. In 2018, delivery of a flu vaccine was delayed after multiple shipments to Utqiagvik failed. While other states rely entirely on the McKesson Corporation, a pharmaceutical distributor, for delivery of the vaccine, Alaska has had problems with relying on one company. 

Instead, it developed a method called “pass-through” in which the cargo is unloaded in Anchorage and booked at high priority for 17 communities that were identified as in need of an alternative. 

Matt Bobo, a state epidemiologist with the immunization program, said some of the storage requirements for the vaccine could be extreme, with one possible scenario that would require the vaccine be stored at -70 degrees. 

“There is no vaccine available in the United States that is stored at that temperature, so that definitely will be a unique challenge,” he said at a press conference Thursday. 

But he said planners have been working to assess this and other contingencies. 

“We also have backup plans for our backup plans,” he said 

At Thursday’s Presidential Debate, President Donald Trump suggested that a vaccine could become available within a few weeks. According to the CDC’s plan, frontline healthcare workers and high-risk Alaskans will get access to the vaccine first. More widespread distribution will follow, which officials say might take until the middle of 2021. 

This story previously misspelled Matt Bobo’s name.