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Vaccine on the horizon as state reports highest spike since July

By CJ HADDAD / cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com - | Dec 15, 2020

Local health officials in Lee County are gearing up to receive and distribute the new COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks.

Lee Health said it expects a supply to vaccinate employees by the end of the month, while the Department of Health Lee County said its first phase of vaccinations will be prioritized for residents of long-term facilities, high-risk frontline healthcare workers and individuals ages 65 and older and/or those with significant comorbidities. While the state preps to acquire the vaccine, nothing is yet set in stone as to when — just that it will be soon.

“Lee Health is working with state and local health officials to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to our community as quickly as possible,” spokesperson Jonathan Little said. “The state has selected five hospitals in Florida to pilot the distribution of the vaccine. While Lee Health is not on this initial list, we expect our supply later this month. Because supply of the vaccine is limited, we will prioritize vaccination to employees who are at the highest risk of exposure and meet guidance criteria established by the federal government, state of Florida and others. We do not yet have a timetable to vaccinate patients or the public and will share this information as soon as it is available from the state of Florida.”

The Florida Department of Health created a COVID-19 vaccination plan in October that has been worked along the way to fit the changing news and best prepare officials for when the time comes.

“The Department of Health will approach COVID-19 vaccination efforts similarly to the integrated planning structure of the H1N1 pandemic, influenza vaccinations and Hepatitis A vaccination program,” FDOH Lee County spokesperson Tammy Yzaguirre said. “The department is in the process of enrolling other hospitals throughout the state. The vaccine will be shipped directly to the hospitals when available.”

The current “draft” version of Florida’s vaccine plan says the DOH has been establishing bonds with local agencies and planning for vaccine administration within the specific areas of hospitals, long-term care facilities, first responders, critical infrastructure personnel, mass vaccination clinics and expanded traditional vaccine providers and retail providers.

Its “key tasks” are focused on addressing enrollment of new vaccine providers, expansion of programs for vaccines for children and adults, and the readiness of Florida’s Immunization Information System.

According to the DOH, Florida’s state-level COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Workgroup was assembled through coordination of staff from the department’s Bureau of Preparedness and Response and the Immunization Section. Other staff were added to the group based on their subject matter expertise. Florida also has a CHD (County Health Department) COVID-19 Vaccination Workgroup comprised of CHD health officers, directors of nursing and preparedness staff from counties throughout the state, both urban and rural. Each CHD has an incident management team focused on local implementation of statewide vaccine strategies.

The vaccination plan states the DOH is engaging with a variety of internal and external partners regarding COVID-19 vaccine planning through both established public health partnerships and the State Emergency Operations Center.

Activities related to specific target groups include pharmacies, correctional and detention facilities, homeless shelters, community-based organizations, long-term care facilities, public safety agencies and hospitals.

The DOH currently classifies this time as “Phase 1” meaning “potentially limited doses.” Phase 2 is defined as having enough doses to “likely” meet demand, while Phase 3 sees “likely sufficient supply, slowing demand.”

Phase 1 is currently defined as vaccines going to hospitals, long-term care staff and residents and first responders and critical infrastructure.

As for Phase 2, the plan states, “As more vaccine becomes available, traditional VFC and VFA providers, including pediatricians, primary care providers and pharmacies will receive doses. It is likely that in this phase, the CHDs will open Public Mass Vaccination Clinics, and the department and/or Florida’s Division of Emergency Management might open such clinics to ensure there is equitable distribution of the vaccine, in the same way COVID-19 testing was made available.

“Once the vaccine is widely available and demand for the vaccine stabilizes, the state will transition to providing the vaccine through routine health care delivery systems, including commercial pharmacies. CHDs will continue to offer vaccine clinics that are open to all members of the public as needed to meet vaccination goals.”

As far as the vaccine quantities being distributed throughout the process, the DOH’s plan states, “Vaccine administration capacity is being estimated through targeted surveys sent out to key partners. The first survey was sent to hospitals and asks about their facility’s vaccine storage capacity (refrigerated, frozen and ultra-cold), as well as their capacity to vaccinate. Similar surveys are being developed for pharmacies and EMS providers and ask about storage and vaccination capacity. A survey for CHDs is under development to understand their capacities for storage and vaccination.”

The need for this particular vaccine to be stored and transported in colder-than-normal temperatures has also been addressed in the state’s plan. It states, “Adherence to cold chain requirements will be required of providers for refrigerated and frozen vaccines. In Phases 2 and 3, providers will be asked to use a continuous data vaccine temperature monitoring system and submit their temperature log data before their requests for vaccine will be approved.

“Vaccine storage and handling procedures will abide by guidance in the CDC VFC Storage and Handling Toolkit. Further guidance related to storage and handling of an ultra-cold chain vaccine will be necessary as it becomes available. Temperature reports from providers will be checked prior to order requests being approved or allocations sent. Providers must upload temperature reports weekly into Florida SHOTS (centralized online immunization information system) and immediately notify the VFC (vaccines for children) help desk of any excursions.”