CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Public Health officials will spend September picking distribution points, securing storage and planning possible drive-through immunization sites for a COVID-19 vaccine that doesn’t yet exist.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has instructed all health systems in all states to be ready, just in case.
“(We're doing) anything we can think of now to be as prepared as possible for that vaccine distribution, that we’re ready to go the minute we get it,” said Nick Crossley, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency, on Wednesday.
CDC director Robert Redfield predicted in a Wednesday Senate subcommittee hearing that a vaccine would not be widely available to the public until mid-to-late 2021. That’s not a definitive date — and whether or not it ends up being correct, there are dozens more unknowns for Crossley and his colleagues to plan around.
“We don’t know how many doses we’re going to get,” Crossley said. “We don’t know if they’ll go directly to hospitals or if the public health system will be required.”
Dr. Stephen Feagins, who leads Hamilton County Public Health, said he’s been leaning on structures and plans originally created for health crises that never materialized in Ohio — H1N1 and anthrax, among others.
His team is developing points of distribution, called PODs, a health care practice first developed in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
Health workers are also focused on ensuring they’ll have enough refrigeration to keep their vaccine supply stored safely. It’s a bigger job than it might sound like, Feagins explained: Of the numerous vaccines in development and trial stages over the summer, many require different storage temperatures and handling.
Their first deadline is Nov. 1.
In the meantime, Feagins said everyone in Hamilton County can help public health workers by getting a flu shot. If fewer people get the flu during the fall, winter and spring, health resources will remain available and focused on the pandemic.
“Every year, we say how important it is to get your flu vaccine,” he said. “This year, it’s 100 times as important. Influenza-like illness can be indistinguishable from COVID-19.”