KALAMAZOO, Mich. — While a vaccine for COVID-19 is still likely months away, health officials are already planning the potential rollout.
This week, Pfizer announced early analysis shows their vaccine could be 90% effective, but even after approval storing and transporting the vaccine remains a challenge.
Local health departments said conversations have just begun with the state health department as it relates to distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Kalamazoo County Public Health Department said they're one of a dozen counties who get to store it in Michigan.
"Kalamazoo County is one of the counties that has been selected to be able to store the vaccine and ultimately work at the distribution and dissemination of that product," said the Kalamazoo County Public Health Department's Health Officer Jim Rutherford.
After Monday's announcement for Pfizer regarding the COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy rate, health departments like Kalamazoo County are starting to prepare.
"We are starting to get the ultra-cold freezer units that we are going to need for that product to store it," said Rutherford.
While the vaccine is still in final analysis and needs approval by the FDA, Pfizer said they're preparing for the moment they can start sending it out.
"We have developed detailed logistical plans and tools to support effective vaccine transport, storage and continuous temperature monitoring. Our distribution is built on a flexible just-in-time system which will ship the frozen vials direct to the point of vaccination," said Pfizer's Director of Communications Kim Bencker.
Pfizer said while they'll mainly ship from their Kalamazoo and Belgium sites direct to point of use, they will also store product for distribution at other sites.
"The shelf life for the product is about six months from shipment, so we are anticipating it slowly trickling out. Hopefully towards the end of December, then we will get more and more product as time goes on," said Rutherford.
Pfizer said they'll be using both ground and air transportation to ensure product arrives within a day or two.
"They’ll have three phases in terms of availability. It is going to take some time. There is a lot of it that is still in production, but they still have a lot of hurdles in terms of approvals from the FDA," said Rutherford.
Pfizer said the vaccine will ship in temperature-controlled thermal shippers using dry ice.
They also said they will use GPS-enabled thermal centers in each shipper to track the location and temperature of each shipment along their routes.