BLUEFIELD — As the region, state and nation struggle to get COVID-19 under control, officials on all levels are also making plans to be ready when a vaccine is approved and ready to be distributed.

Brenda Donithan, administrator of the Mercer County Health Department, said the work is under way.

“We are beginning preparations in trying to get ready,” she said, adding plans include the possibility of having “mass vaccination clinics. We have to work with the community providers to get ready for that.”

That includes an effort to get hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics and other providers on board and ready to go.

Donithan said the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has set a deadline of Oct. 1 for states and localities to have a preliminary plan in place, but no timeline yet on when the vaccine may be ready.

“We really don’t know yet,” she said. “We don’t know when it will be ready or how it will be distributed.”

Estimates of when one will be approved have ranged from late October to early next year.

Shannon Hardee, nursing director at the McDowell County Health Department, said they are busy preparing as well for the vaccinations.

“We already have procedures in place related to the vaccination for the H1N1 (swine flu) virus (in 2009),” she said. “The health department and county have gone through this before. We will be ready.”

Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state Health Officer and head of the state Bureau of Public Health, said last week plans are being made but she is not yet aware of any definitive timeframe of approval and availability.

“They initially told us in October or November,” she said. “Now, we are hearing mid-November.”

That means to be ready this month.

“We have the plans in motion,” she said. “When it does come, we will be ready.”

When it arrives, the state National Guard will be involved in helping to distribute it. Amjad and NG Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer are part of the Vaccine Preparation Task Force, which was set up as instructed by Gov. Jim Justice.

“We will need to answer several questions in the coming weeks,” Hoyer said during a pandemic briefing recently.

“Will the supplies potentially needed be supplied by the federal government? What requirements will the state have to secure those? We’ll need locations for distribution along with storage requirements,” Hoyer said. Many of the vaccines require temperature control, he added. “We’ve already placed an order for some equipment. We’ll be looking at using National Guard facilities that have security and back-up generators to be able to spread the vaccine across the state,” Hoyer said.

The task force will also determine what kind of providers will be needed.

“We’ll see which hospitals, pharmacies and other entities that may be available to participate with the distribution,” Hoyer said.

The CDC has issued guidelines to follow.

According to those guidelines, several scenarios describe potential COVID- 19 vaccine requirements, early supply estimates after vaccine product approvals and populations that may be recommended for vaccination during this early period.

These scenarios are designed to support jurisdictional, federal, and partner planning but, according to the CDC, they are still considered “hypothetical.”

“The COVID-19 vaccine landscape is evolving and uncertain, and these scenarios may evolve as more information is available,” the CDC said in its guidelines. “Planners should assume that by January 2021 significantly more COVID-19 vaccine will be available for distribution and plans will need to evolve to address additional vaccine availability.”

Specifics of scenarios include how the vaccine is shipped, stored (frozen), thawed, reconstituted, how is it administered and to whom first.

The prioritized populations include health care professionals, essential workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

Jurisdictions should also plan for real-time shipment of doses. Vaccine will be free of cost and early vaccinations should focus on administration sites that can reach prioritized populations with as much throughput as possible.

Contact Charles Boothe at

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