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Pressure to create a coronavirus vaccine is increasing by the day, but for a safe vaccine to enter the market, it takes time.

USA TODAY

State public health departments say they’re ready to leap into action as soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is approved but caution so many things are still unknown that exactly what that leap looks like is hard to say right now.

For Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s like planning an outdoor picnic for 1.3 million of his closest friends (the population of Maine) without knowing how much food he has, who’s coming, how he’s going to invite them and what they can and can’t eat.

“We plan for things we have knowledge around and move forward from there,” he said.

The good news is that the earliest date a vaccine is expected to arrive is now around Thanksgiving so that gives states a little breathing room. There had been the possibility that a vaccine could become available as soon as Nov. 1.

To get ready, in Maine the public health department is planning “down to the person,”  Shah said. “We’re looking at how many miles our public health nurses may need to drive.” 

On Friday state public health departments submitted vaccination distribution plans to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The plans were as detailed as they could be given the many things that are still unknown:

  • When a vaccine or vaccines will become available.
  • Which groups will be first in line to get it and who comes next.
  • What kind of storage and refrigerator or freezer requirements they might have. At least one must be stored at -94°.
  • For vaccines that require two doses (all but one), when the second dose must be administered.
  • Information about whether a certain vaccine works or doesn’t work in specific populations such as the elderly, pregnant women or the young. 

In a call with reporters Monday, public health officials talked about how they’re preparing and what they still need.

This involves hours and hours of meetings: Last week state health officials spent two hours meeting with Pfizer just about the packaging it has developed to keep the vaccine cold as it’s distributed and stored, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.

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Maine’s Shah said he’s having multiple meetings every day and many at night to get ready for what will be one of the biggest public health pushes of the modern era.

The final plan for who gets COVID-19 vaccine first will come from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. That committee is standing ready to meet the day or the day after a vaccine is approved, Shah said.

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