Nov 12, 2020 - Health

The trickiest vaccine launch in U.S. history

Coronavirus vaccine

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Even if the federal government manages to secure the cash needed for COVID-19 vaccine distribution — and that's a big if — there's still a huge task ahead at the state level.

Why it matters: America has never attempted to vaccinate so many people on such short notice, with so many lives on the line.

1) Record-keeping: States will turn to their existing immunization registries, AP reports.

  • Pharmacies and doctors’ offices will need to be able to look up records, so people don’t have to return to the same place for their second shot.

2) Storage: Smaller pharmacies and doctors' offices are needed to make getting shots more convenient, but the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -94°F.

  • About 60% of pharmacy chains nationwide — Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health, Walmart, Kroger and Costco Wholesale, so far — agreed to partner with the federal government to ramp up access, HHS announced today.
  • The private sector will also be needed to help with shipping and storage and technology lags from remote or tribal areas.

3) Return visits: The CDC is considering ways to help Americans remember to get the second shot with the same brand, per AP:

  • One would be to issue cards that people would get with their first shot, like the polio immunization cards many older Americans remember.
  • In a rural part of South Carolina, one community health center is planning multiple reminders, including text messages and calls from health workers.
  • In rural Minnesota this fall, masked nurses in traffic vests reached into cars to give passengers flu shots as a way to social distance, but it also served as a test run for a COVID vaccine.

The bottom line: The government needs to get its messaging right this time.

  • The CDC and other agencies can't afford a repeat of this spring, when they gave bad guidance about face masks and testing that is still confusing many Americans.
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