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CDC Wants States To Plan For COVID-19 Distribution By October


When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent guidance to states about how to prepare to distribute a COVID vaccine as soon as October, well, that timeline caught a lot of people off guard. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin reports.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: That tight timeline did not surprise Molly Howell. She is the immunization program manager for North Dakota.

MOLLY HOWELL: That there could potentially be a vaccine even as early as fall of 2020 is what we've been told throughout the pandemic.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She thinks it's unlikely that a vaccine candidate will get authorized and available that soon. But...

HOWELL: I would rather be prepared and ready to go than not be prepared and have a vaccine that could potentially save lives and prevent disease sitting on a shelf somewhere.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: There are immunization managers like Howell across the country.

HOWELL: There is a me in every state, yes (laughter).

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Also in several territories and large cities - they are all now poring over these three CDC planning documents, which are very detailed but assume a lot, too, about what an approved vaccine might be like. There's a checklist of what to plan and several planning scenarios.

Dr. Georges Benjamin was pleased to see these documents. He's the executive director of the American Public Health Association.

GEORGES BENJAMIN: I applaud the administration for finally some forward thinking on something that we need to do.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He wishes this kind of guidance could have come out in March on testing and contact tracing. He does think the timeline CDC is setting for states to put together a vaccine distribution plan is concerning. As former Maryland health secretary, how long does he guess it would take to produce a plan like this?

BENJAMIN: It would take me about three months or so to do this. You know, it's not about just sitting down and writing it. This is not, like, you'd say, a term paper. You know, you have to call people. You have to understand what the infrastructure is in your state.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: This is all extra challenging because the COVID vaccines furthest along in clinical trials are really complicated. Claire Hannan, who runs the Association of Immunization Managers, says, just imagine trying to plan for a scenario like this.

CLAIRE HANNAN: You don't know when you're going to get the shipment, but it's got to be used within 24 hours. And it's coming in a package with a thousand doses, and it's on dry ice.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She says people working on these plans across the country are trying to sort all this out as fast as they can.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.