Federal health officials have outlined a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan that would begin shipping doses to prioritized populations within 24 hours of a vaccine’s authorization, possibly starting in November.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense on Wednesday released a strategic overview of the administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine campaign. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an interim playbook to help state and other local jurisdictions plan a three-phase COVID-19 vaccination response. Doses would ideally be delivered and administered immediately following Emergency Use Authorization and/or Biologics License Application from the Food and Drug Administration, officials said. 

Although a vaccine or vaccines may be ready by November or December, early supplies may be limited, with broader availability expected in 2021, CDC Director Robert Redfield testified in a Wednesday Senate subcommittee meeting.

T.J. Griffin
T.J. Griffin, senior VP-operations, PharMerica

Healthcare workers likely will be the first in line to be immunized if a very limited supply of vaccines is approved by the FDA, T.J. Griffin, RPh, senior vice president of PharMerica’s LTC Pharmacy, told McKnight’s. Griffin, who serves on a federal committee charged with helping to implement Operation Warp Speed, said that as workers are thought to be the main vector for outbreaks in long-term care facilities, operators will need to include employees of all kinds in their immunization lists. This includes contract workers such as consultant pharmacists and pharmacy delivery personnel, and anyone else with the potential for direct or indirect exposure to people with COVID-19 or infectious materials.

Vaccine distribution for long-term care residents likely will occur shortly after healthcare workers are immunized and as supplies ramp up, Griffin added. “Clearly vaccine distribution is being planned in phases and our vulnerable [resident] population and our healthcare workers are top priority,” he said.

The CDC expects to finalize its allocation decisions based on recommendations from its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of clinicians.

“CDC will play a vital role in deciding, based on input from experts and stakeholders, how initial, limited vaccine doses will be allocated and distributed while reliably producing more than 100 million doses by January 2021,” Redfield said in a statement.

The agency plans to work with medical wholesale supplier McKesson to ship COVID-19 vaccines to administration sites, with logistical support from the Department of Defense, officials said. Pharmacies and hospitals will be the primary vaccination sites, and federal agencies also are working with pharmacies to develop on-site vaccination for long-term care facilities, possibly using mobile units, according to the CDC’s vaccine playbook. 

CDC and Operation Warp Speed remain “very engaged with LTC pharmacies and understand our vital role in the distribution process,” Griffin noted. Since the vaccines must be kept cold and may need to be administered immediately upon delivery, coordination between each long-term care facility and pharmacy partner will be critical, he said.

At this time, there is not a plan to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in bulk as is typical with influenza vaccines, Griffin added. In addition, “all vaccinations will be coded at the patient and employee level so reminders can be made for the secondary doses either 21 or 28 days later, depending on which vaccine was administered,” he said.

For more about Wednesday’s vaccine-related news, see this article from McKnight’s Senior Living.