Governor Steve Sisolak informed Nevadans Monday afternoon about a vaccination program playbook for statewide operations when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, adding, “There is no approved vaccine at this time.”
The vaccination playbook has been developed by Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services. It is a living document which gets updated as knowledge about the pandemic increases. The plan is being reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is subject to an approval by the federal agency. It was submitted on Oct. 16.
Gov. Sisolak was joined in Carson City by two immunization experts from the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health: Candice McDaniel, the maternal and child health director for the Bureau of Child, Family and Community Wellness Division and Shannon Bennett, immunization program manager.
The governor and the health officials gave details about how the vaccine will be distributed when it becomes available.
The state is working with a statewide coalition of pharmacies, healthcare providers, public health experts and other medical professionals to carry out vaccine distribution and COVID-19 immunization in future, said bureau chief McDaniel.
“We anticipate only a small number of dosages to begin with,” she said.
The distribution is based on science. Front line medical professionals will get “priority consideration” as they are in “close and sustained contact with people who have the disease,” she said.
Nevada has an existing vaccine plan on which officials work on a day-to-day basis. Some of its programs include vaccines for children and influenza. McDaniel also referred to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and said that DHHS has taken lessons from past immunization experiences.
When COVID-19 vaccination begins it will go through the WebIZ system, a confidential public health database that collects immunization information. Per Nevada law, vaccination information must be entered into the system, she said. In Nevada, WebIZ has been in place for years and it is widely used by immunization providers. It will be used to manage and distribute COVID-19 vaccine in the same way.
“While we cannot ensure the decision made by federal agencies like the CDC or FDA, we can ensure that we have a plan in place for Nevadans,” said McDaniel.
Concerns about vaccine approval
The officials also addressed some of the false information and incorrect perceptions about a potential vaccine and the pandemic situation.
“There’s a lot of unknown and a great deal of misinformation” about a potential vaccine and the virus, said Gov. Sisolak. “We are not rounding the corner” on the disease, he added.
Immunization program manager Bennett explained the federal process of vaccine approval to help Nevadans understand how the process works. The team also hoped that fact-based information will help manage people’s expectations.
“The vaccine goes through several levels of clinical trials,” said Bennett. “People of different ages, races and ethnicities are included in clinical trials even on the accelerated timeline for COVID-19.”
There are currently no trials that include pregnant women and children. “We do not expect vaccines for those [groups] until clinical trials include them,” she said.
COVID-19 vaccines are being manufactured while it is still in the clinical trial phase, explained Bennett, “to meet the aggressive timeline of the federal government’s operation work speed.” This is the reason why a vaccine will be available as soon as a manufacturer can “present a strong case to the FDA for emergency use licensure,” she said.
But, Bennett added, “if the vaccine is not deemed safe and effective by the FDA then it will not be released.”
Will a vaccine be safe for use?
Bennett said that many have expressed concerns over the effectiveness of a vaccine if it is released in a hurry.
“We are confident,” said Bennett, that FDA and the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices will approve a vaccine following due procedures and people can trust a vaccine when it becomes available.
She also explained that “during and following a clinical trial, three national independent review boards,” check the vaccine. “These groups make the final determination if the vaccine is licensed and will develop recommendations for use in groups like people with comorbidities and underlying health conditions,” she said.
According to Bennett, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution will involve challenges such as “ultra cold storage and handling requirements,” and potentially two dosages that are not interchangeable between products. Safely vaccinating Nevadans during an ongoing pandemic will also remain challenging.
“This task is monumental,” she said, “and will represent the greatest public health effort of our generation.”