Pfizer Vaccine Anticipated Next Week, Distribution to Follow

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Michelle Phillips

MADISON–The buzz about the approval and release of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and later the Moderna vaccine, may leave many feeling a sting. The Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as early as next week, will see slow distribution and just under 50,000 doses for the state in its first shipment. 

In a video call in for reporters on Monday, Wisconsin Deputy Health Secretary at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Julie Willems Van Dyke and Dr. Stephanie Schauer, program director of the Wisconsin Immunization Program said that 49,725 doses of the vaccine, which requires deep freezing, will be in the first round. It is unknown how many will follow in the second round. 

The vaccine is a series of two shots given three weeks apart. The Moderna vaccine, which requires no refrigeration is also given in two doses four weeks apart. The first to get the vaccine would be emergency personnel, healthcare workers and those in care facilities. 

Willems Van Dyke declared, “This is the most significant public health undertaking of our time.” 

She said distribution of the Pfizer vaccine will be more difficult, particularly in rural areas, due to the freezing requirement and added that deep freezes will be provided for facilities. A hub and spoke model will be used and the state is partnering with healthcare systems to help distribute the vaccine, though both Willems Van Dyke and Schauer both declined to name the distribution locations or disclose how the department will determine what areas get the vaccine and amounts they will receive. The state is also working closely with Emergency Management and the National Guard to help with the undertaking.

The Moderna vaccine will not follow the hub and spoke model because it is shelf stable. Instead, it will be sent directly to facilities.

Willems Van Dyke warned that it will take several months to provide vaccinations to all of Wisconsin. She added that it will likely be late 2021 when mitigation measures such as masks and social distancing will be loosened and called for patience from the public.

Schauer said it is important to remember that the vaccine is being approved by the FDA on an emergency basis. At this time the efficacy rate of the vaccine is unknown and the number of those that are experience side effects in not clear.

Willems Van Dyke said, “The FDA is poring over data.” She reminded that vaccine ranges in regard to efficacy.

“Any vaccine that is approved has greater efficacy than sitting here exposed to COVID-19,” she said. 

As far as side effects, Schauer said there shouldn’t be a great deal of concern, “It is mRNA-based technology, not a live vaccine, only a tiny part of one piece of the virus is used.” 

Great Britain began distribution of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and by press time media outlets were reporting side effects among those with food and vaccine allergies.

“It is not uncommon to have side effects, I expect we will have some,” said Willems Van Dyke.

Schauer and Willems Van Dyke said they were waiting to hear the final recommendation by the FDA concerning those that should be excluded from vaccinating dues to health concerns. One area of concern is the affect if will have on pregnant women.

Notification of those who are eligible for the vaccine would be distributed through media outlets, and Willems Van Dyke said that they may use healthcare notification systems such as MyChart as well. Schauer added the Wisconsin Immunization Registry is a good way to keep abreast of when it is time to receive the second dose of the drug.

Schauer said people have questions about vaccines in general, and that the DHS is, “trying to provide as much info as possible” to reassure the public that the vaccine is safe and effective. 

“Some will line up right away and some will wait to see how it goes,” added Willems Van Dyke. 

She said the vaccines will be covered under insurance as a preventative care measure, and because the government bought the vaccine, only administration fess would be billed to insurance companies. She said the administration fee for the uninsured would be covered but was unsure who would foot the bill. She added that those who have had COVID-19 are still eligible to receive the vaccine. 

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