With COVID-19 Vaccines in Sight, the VA Preps Plans to Distribute

Over and over since the COVID-19 pandemic fired up earlier this year, we’ve seen grim milestone after grim milestone passed with disturbing speed. With nearly 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths in the U.S., we’ve perhaps become numb to the statistics. In that numbness, perhaps we’ve made an unconscious decision to stop looking for a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. With so much happening in 2020, news of something like a vaccine seemed far off. That may have changed.

Within the last few weeks, news has come out that a couple of vaccines have shown promising results: over 90% efficacy. Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna announced that preliminary data for vaccines in development were 95% and 94.5% effective respectively. This is great news after enduring months of stay-at-home orders and masking.

Earlier this week, the VA announced that planning is underway to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. Working with the CDC, the VA is developing a phased plan based on five core ethical pillars: safety, maximizing the benefit of the vaccine, equity, fairness, and transparency.

Risk factors will be taken into consideration such as risks of acquiring infection, severe illness and death if infected, transmitting the disease, and risk to essential workers including health care personnel.

Additionally, the phased approach will be based on scientific and historical evidence, lessons learned from past pandemic vaccine plans, and input from scientific experts both in and out of the VA.

In late-October, VA medical centers across the country performed planning exercises in preparation for initial receipt of the vaccine. The exercises also did the following:

  • Helped determine how to distribute immunizations based on number of available doses and coordinated communications with Veterans to schedule immunization.
  • Addressed ordering, storage, handling, and administration of the vaccine.

It’s expected that the initial supply of vaccine will be limited and that it will be offered first to high-risk health care personnel, then (as more vaccine is made available) high-risk Veterans. The ultimate goal is to be able to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.

Presently, the drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna plan to request emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Drug & Food Administration. If all goes well, the first doses could be available as soon as December; however, as we have learned with anything to do with COVID-19, we need to keep our expectations real. The light is there but we’ve still got a ways to go before we can even see the tunnel’s end.

In the meantime, we need to keep ourselves safe by adhering to the guidance of wearing masks, social distancing, washing up, and staying home. If you’re reading this and live in California, about 94% of the state is slated to enter a limited, stay-at-home order beginning Saturday night.

Stay safe and healthy out there.