State preparing for COVID-19 vaccine, which could be available by Nov. 1


State health officials are preparing for the completion of development for a COVID-19 vaccine, though the state’s health department head wants to make sure any vaccine going to distribution is thoroughly tested before the public can receive their coronavirus shots.

During a media briefing Sept. 2, Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said potential vaccines for COVID-19 are still in clinical trials to evaluate their safety and effectiveness. Wiesman said it is the Washington Department of Health’s belief that vaccines go through the broader third phase of trials before they are available to the public, unless an independent board of scientists said trials should be stopped.

While potential vaccines are tried, Wiesman said the state has already begun building an infrastructure for distribution of vaccines at the state level. As to what that infrastructure looks like, he explained it involved everything from ordering, receiving, administering and tracking when vaccines are administered.

More specifically, Wiesman said the department is working to make sure the existing immunization information system is equipped to handle an available COVID-19 vaccine and working to make sure healthcare providers have what they need to administer vaccines, including a system to distribute syringes and personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We want to be ready whenever a vaccine is available,” Wiesman said, noting later that multiple candidate vaccines are currently in development.

Wiesman acknowledged the potential for politics to affect vaccine development and distribution, reiterating the Department of Health would only approve of a vaccine that was thoroughly vetted through trials and independent scientific review.

Wiesman said the state is planning toward a Nov. 1 date for a vaccine to be available, a few days before the November election, whether or not it will be available then.

“We want to make sure that the federal government takes all the steps they need to ensure that the release of this vaccine is not driven by politics,” Wiesman remarked.

Wiesman anticipated that once a vaccine is cleared there would be a limited supply available at the start, requiring prioritization of who would receive the first batches. Though plans weren’t finalized, Wiesman expected high-risk individuals such as healthcare or other essential industry workers to be a priority, as well as those at risk for severe complications or death from the disease.

Wiesman noted that should multiple vaccines be available, keeping track of which ones an individual is administered would be important, given the likelihood that individuals would receive multiple doses for full effectiveness.

Wiesman said that health departments nationwide are planning there will be an adequate response at the federal level in supplying them with vaccines and other needed resources like syringes and personal protective equipment (PPE), though the state had past struggles with receiving resources from the federal government to handle COVID-19.

“That’s what we’re counting on, and the federal government has indicated that’s exactly what we should plan for,” Wiesman said. Only at the federal level could manufacturers be ordered to produce a certain product to meet needs for effective administration of the vaccines, he said.

While a vaccine is in the works, data shows positive signs for the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole. Washington State Health Officer Kathy Lofy pointed to data showing a decline of positive tests as a percentage of all tests given while the number of tests administered remained flat. Now about 3.6 percent of tests are coming back positive.

The rate of new cases in a 14-day period per 100,000 Washington residents is also in decline, though still far above the target, as Lofy explained that currently the rate is about 96 per 100,000, compared to the 25 per 100,000 target.

“COVID-19 activity in the state is declining overall, but we’re not quite yet at the level where we really want it,” Lofy said.


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