Minnesota creates draft plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

A picture taken on October 9, 2020 shows a dose of Sinovac Biotech potential vaccine against the COVID-19 during the 3rd phase trials at the Acibadem Hospital in Istanbul. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP) (Photo by YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images) ((Photo by YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images))

Minnesota state and local health leaders are creating plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, so the state can be ready once a vaccine gets approved.

The Minnesota Department of Heath submitted its draft plan last week to the CDC. However, health leaders were quick to say the draft is a “living document” that will be adapted as more is learned about the vaccines still in progress.

“We don’t know which vaccine will come online or when they will come online and that’s what we’ve tried to convey there that as we learn more information, we will add to our plan, but there is a lot that we don’t know,” said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann.

The goal is to have framework in place for distribution once a vaccine does become available and is determined to be safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

According to the draft plans, distribution will occur in three phases depending on the volume of vaccines available to Minnesota. In Phase 1 when the supply will be limited, vaccines will be strictly prioritized for specific groups, which could include essential workers, health care workers and vulnerable populations. 

“The allocation work group that I mentioned will be helping to identify principles and policies moving forward for identifying those groups,” said Ehresmann. “They will be informed by guidelines coming from the federal government that will be tailored to Minnesota.”

Ehresmann it’s unclear how long Phase 1 would last since it is dependent on vaccine supply. In Phase 2 there would be opportunities for the general public to get access to the vaccine through pharmacies and clinics. In Phase 3, a strategy for routine distribution would go into place. The state will be working closely with local public health department throughout the vaccine distribution process.

“Anything we can do now to anticipate and have plans in place, so we know who is likely going to be able to run those clinics and get that vaccine out to those community populations as quickly as possible – that planning now is really going to pay off,” said Christine Lees of Dakota County Public Health.

MDH is in the process of creating a network of COVID-19 vaccine providers. Interested clinics and practices can complete an online survey, data from which will be used map out matches between priority groups and enrolled vaccine providers. Vaccine providers will have to officially register with MDH and sign a federal agreement.

The draft plan also details creating reminders for vaccine recipients for second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. There will also be vaccine safety monitoring to track any possible adverse effects. As for vaccine storage, work is underway to evaluate ultra-cold storage facilities and secure large quantities of dry ice statewide.

There are four COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are in advanced stages of their trials. Ehresmann says it’s possible one of the vaccines made by Pfizer, which is further along in the process, and could be evaluated by the end of the year, but the approval timeline for distribution remains unclear.