'It's Just A Matter Of Distribution And Production': What A COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Could Look Like In Colorado
A COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed to Americans by mid-December, according to national health officials. But most Coloradans likely won’t get a vaccine until next year, as even though a few seem promising, none have been officially approved yet. And once those vaccines do get approved, they still have to be distributed around the country.
KUNC’s Colorado Edition spoke with Jasjit Gill, a clinical pharmacist specialist, and the co-chair of the vaccine subcommittee for UCHealth, to better understand what vaccine distribution could look like.
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Erin O’Toole: Let's start with an explanation of how distribution would work for a common vaccine like the flu vaccine, and is (distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine) going to work in similar fashion?
Jasjit Gill: It may eventually. Right now, with emergency use potentially getting approved, distribution would be allocated by the federal government. So potentially CDC distributed to state health departments, in our case, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and then from there distributed to areas that have the capacity to store these products.
The two (COVID-19 vaccines) that are closest to getting emergency use authorization would be requiring extreme cold chain.
The typical process would be, we order through our wholesalers, directly through the manufacturer, vaccine distributors — in this case none of those will be used.
From the time of the emergency use approval, how does the hospital system get a vaccine?
So currently it's a phased approach, which would be providing care for the highest risk. There's still a lot of unknowns.
Just to put things in perspective, the quickest vaccine that has been approved prior to this is around four years, a non-COVID vaccine. This is, we're looking at less than 10 months for potential production, distribution, so you know, that being said, things are moving really quickly. The federal government plan is considered under ‘warp speed,’ so the name is fitting.
So that being said, the plan for emergency use approval is still in the process, so there's a lot of unknowns. I know everyone kind of wants to get their get their hands on it, but there's a phased approach that's delineated by the CDC. CDPHE also is working with the governor's office to come up with a plan here in Colorado.
So the plans are in place. It's just a matter of distribution and production of the vaccine.
What do you see as some of the big challenges of distributing a vaccine during a pandemic?
I think here at the hospital, we're well equipped. I work in infectious diseases, so the mask wearing and hand washing, that was no big deal for me.
And I think at the hospital system the biggest thing would be the labor pool, so if you have other health care workers that are getting infected, they're no longer able to assist with these endeavors, so they would potentially have to quarantine. So you know, just trying to protect everybody using standard precautions, PPE.
If we’re at full capacity, we’re able to assist all of Colorado. I think working under normal scenarios that wouldn't be an issue. Of course this is not a normal scenario with the pandemic, so we're taking all the precautions to protect our labor pool, where everybody is able to assist and we don't see any major issues with getting this done.
Are you concerned at all about public willingness to get this vaccine, or trust in the vaccine?
Unfortunately, this has been politicized more than any vaccine that I know of, just working within the medical field with vaccines for around 20 years now.
So I think medical providers gaining the trust of their patient and making a strong recommendation is actually the number one thing from the CDC to improve vaccine rates. Everything right now is just on press releases, so I think once we have a little more data, medical providers will be a little more comfortable, be able to make a little stronger recommendations, and I think that will outweigh any of the politics that have played into this.
Do you have a sense of when UCHealth might get its first batch of the vaccine?
I can't say definitively. I know that we will get it as early as it's distributed across the country.
That being said, there's other mechanisms that take place with distribution and scheduling and the phased approach delineated by the state of Colorado. So we're going to follow the guidance from the state and the federal government. That being said, I would say early 2021 would be a safe bet, but especially with the holidays coming up and there's a lot going on. So I think optimistically, late 2020, early 2021, and then pretty confidently by second quarter 2021, there should be a strong structure in place.
A lot of unknowns still though.
This conversation is from KUNC’s Colorado Edition from Nov. 25. You can find the full show here.