Local health districts are updating plans for emergency distribution to prepare for an eventual coronavirus vaccine.
“They keep telling us that we should plan for COVID vaccines anywhere from October on,” said Maura Esposito, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott.
Anticipating that vaccines will be in short supply at first, distribution plans are focusing on first responders and other priority professions, including hospital staff and teachers.
“We have been planning very hard to identify our critical workforce and priorities,” Esposito said. “… We know that the vaccines are going to come and they’re going to be limited.”
Once first responders and other priority workers have been inoculated, the vaccine will be available to the general public through drive-up sites set up by municipal health departments and districts, as well as pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
The existing emergency distribution plans called for converting schools and other large buildings into distribution centers. However, the contagious nature of COVID-19 has led public health officials to opt for the drive-up model.
The Wallingford Health Department has selected Sheehan High School as its primary distribution center, with Lyman Hall High School available if the town receives enough vaccine for two sites.
The department ran a drill while a mission group was living at Sheehan for a week in July 2018, distributing 500 mock pills across four hours.
Health Department Director Stephen Civitelli said the drill showed they’ll need increased staff to run the clinic — especially since the drill involved pills, not injections. It’s expected that the COVID vaccine will require two injections approximately 20 days apart.
“For a vaccine based — an injectable — it obviously takes more time than if you’re going to provide a pill form for somebody,” Civitelli said.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro, D-3rd, held a roundtable discussion in Wallingford Friday about the town’s planning for disseminating a future vaccine and what they said was a need for additional federal resources and guidance to support communities in safe and equitable distribution.
Both Wallingford and the Chesprocott Health District have a medical reserve corps of volunteer nurses, pharmacists and other medical professionals, as well as non-medical volunteers who can help with logistics.
Wallingford created the corps in 2011 after reviewing its response to the H1N1 pandemic, while the Chesprocott corps was approved last week. The recognition grants volunteers additional training and liability insurance.
Public health organizations also need to have the infrastructure to transport and store vaccines.
Meriden’s Health and Human Services Department already has much of the equipment and trained staff necessary to handle the vaccines, said department director Lea Crown.
Meriden has held drive-through vaccination drills with health departments from across the state in the past and is working on a plan to use its upcoming flu vaccine initiative as a trial run for a drive-through clinic. Wallingford is already running a drive-through flu vaccine program at the municipal library and Chesprocott has identified sites in each of its three towns to set up flu clinics in October.
“If there’s one thing that public health does well and has prepared for well, it’s mass (prevention),” Crown said.