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The COVID-19 vaccine should go ‘into arms’ not ‘into storage’: Association of Immunization Managers Director

The UK has become the first to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with a rollout expected next week. Association of Immunization Managers Director Claire Hannan joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: And Anjalee, let's dig into that a little bit closer here since that vote was not unanimous. There was dissent, one dissenting vote, in terms of that CDC panel, to try and figure out who should be getting these vaccines first. Of course, expected, as you noted there, nursing homes and health care workers. But let's bring on a member of that panel here with us to dig into that decision.

Claire Hannan is Association of Immunization Managers director. And she joins us now. And really, I guess one of the things to focus in on here would be that dissent. I know it's, you know, an overwhelming vote of 13 to 1. But the dissent really stemmed from the idea that it hasn't been focused enough on some of those older populations here. So what do you make of plans to really roll out things here first with those nursing homes and health care workers, Claire?

CLAIRE HANNAN: Yes, well, you noted that they did vote 13 to 1 to have phase 1a prioritization be to health care workers and long-term care facilities. You know, I think that this was welcome news for the states. Number one, it gives them some clarity as they begin to plan where initial shipments should go. And number two, I think it's a good thing to do long-term care facilities as well as health care workers because that's where a lot of-- we're seeing a lot of the hospitalization and death.

And so we want to prevent that as best we can, as quickly as we can. And it also makes sense logistically to vaccinate workers in long-term care facilities. At the same time, you're vaccinating residents. It will increase the uptake. You know, long-term care workers are more likely to get vaccinated if it's right there where they work. So I think it's a good decision.

We don't have every piece of data, we never will. You know, we don't have everything perfect. But I think that that's the right decision. And, you know, it's giving clarity to the states as they plan and move forward.

AKIKO FUJITA: Claire, this, of course, comes at a time when we have seen a huge surge in coronavirus infections across the country. Hospitals, especially in rural parts of the US, really overrun. They don't have the capacity in place. Is there enough staffing here to get this vaccine out, inoculate enough people at the rate with which they need to be? Can you give us a little more color on the discussions that are happening behind the scenes about logistics of all of this?

CLAIRE HANNAN: Yeah, I mean, you're right. You're absolutely right. We're asking a lot of hospitals. We're asking a lot of health care workers. And that's why the role of the state public health agency is so important in being a partner and getting them ready, making sure they understand, you know, how to handle an ultra-cold vaccine, how to store it properly, how to administer it properly, making sure the health care workers have trust in the vaccine safety and efficacy.

You know, they are comfortable with it, and they're going to get it. Making sure they know it's two doses, they've got to do this twice. So really running through that training with the health care providers, with the hospitals, making sure everybody's ready for it. And they do need, you know, to stagger as they vaccinate to move forward in a really planned way. So we're asking a lot of them, but we've been planning with them over the last several months.

So, you know, I think, for them, it can't come soon enough, the vaccine. So yeah, it's difficult. They're stretched thin, we know that. We're doing everything we can to make it as easy as possible for them to get the vaccine and vaccinate their health care workers and their staff.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Claire, looking at, you know, what the expectation is moving forward for broad dissemination of the vaccine to the public, I know one of the questions has been, you know, what will the vaccine uptake be, broadly speaking, and the requirements for that follow-up dose? I know there was a comment or a question yesterday about, you know, using and relying the phone companies or the telecom companies. Has there been any discussion already about that with these companies?

CLAIRE HANNAN: So I'm not sure what you're referring to with the phone companies. They have a system in place allowing text messaging for reminders, you know, allowing people that get their first dose to sign up for that, and also monitoring their-- you know, how they're doing after they get the vaccine and making sure that we're staying on top of any potential safety signal. So I'm not sure if that's what you're referring to.

But you're definitely pointing out that there is some hesitancy, we can expect that with a new vaccine. So we really need to push the communications out. We really need to assure people that the FDA is looking at the data very closely. They have an independent advisory committee, and then, of course, the CDC Advisory Committee, also an independent panel of experts reviewing the data very closely, making sure that the vaccine is ready, it's safe, it's effective.

So, you know, I think that that communication need is very important. And we just need to reassure, especially those getting it first, the health care workers, yes, this vaccine is safe, and it's effective.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And about the Advisory Committee's recommendations, I know that there has been some discussion about whether or not this will actually be followed, right? At the end of the day, it is in the hands of the local government to follow. What about the elected officials? Do we anticipate that they'll sort of jump ahead in the line and be able to receive that, when they were talking about at the federal or state level?

CLAIRE HANNAN: Yeah, you know, that's a really good point. And there's been a lot of coverage around, oh, the states will be making this decision, the governors will be deciding where the vaccine goes. And I think people can rest assured that, you know, governors are not going through their contact list and pulling up names to get the vaccine. We've had a really sophisticated planning process in place.

States have submitted plans, they have advisory committees and ethics committees in place to make sure the vaccine is distributed effectively. And every provider that enrolls in the program has to sign an agreement that they will follow the guidance, the CDC guidance, coming from this advisory committee that spoke yesterday. They will follow that guidance. So I think you will see some variation as far as how states do it.

And I don't think there'll be enough supply to get all health care workers and long-term care residents, you know, in the first go round. So you'll see some states approaching things differently. But I'm pretty confident-- I'm very confident that the states will follow the CDC guidance. You know, we've been doing that, as far as vaccine rollout, for years.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and definitely going to be a shortage. But the way that it's going to be distributed will go to the states based on population there. I assume it would have been simpler if we had kind of confined some of these outbreaks to states. Now, of course, we're seeing this across the country, including rural areas. We've heard a lot of doctors talking about the different impacts here, as well, across race lines when you think about communities of color impacted and overwhelmingly represented in those deaths.

So talk to me about that. I'm curious to see how much that might play a role once we get kind of past this first rollout experience or test with health care workers and older populations, if you think there should be more emphasis being placed on racial inequality here as well.

CLAIRE HANNAN: Yeah, that's a really good point. I mean, the inequities, we've seen them play out with the COVID disease and the hospitalization rates and the death rates. And it's really up to the vaccine to correct those inequities. And what's really critical is that we make the vaccine accessible and affordable, it's going to be free, and as accessible as possible in these communities. That's step number one.

So really working to enroll as many providers as possible, pharmacies, physicians, community health centers. We need to make the vaccine readily accessible in all communities. And affordable, that's step number one. And then, yeah, number two is that we really got to have the trust built in these communities. We need to engage with the leaders, at state health agencies and local health departments, engage with community leaders, talk with them, assure them the vaccine is safe, ensure them it's effective, and really persuade them about the value of the vaccine.

Because they have been hit harder by the disease. There's no question about that. And, you know, one thing that we can do is get the vaccine to them and make them, you know, trusting and comfortable with receiving it. And that will be one way that we can reduce the inequities of the disease.

AKIKO FUJITA: Claire, you alluded to some of the chaos that played out in the initial days of the pandemic where you had governors, like you said, sort of going down their contact list to see if they can secure enough PPE. And there seems to be some fear that sort of similar strains could be playing out across supply chains. With the vaccine distribution, you're hearing about people trying to outbid each other on cold storage facilities, for example.

What are you doing to ensure that there is enough supply in place? So not necessarily the vaccine itself, but everything around it that needs to be in place in order to store these vaccines. Are those concerns justified, or do you feel comfortable in the availability that's out there?

CLAIRE HANNAN: Well, I think you see states purchasing ultra-cold freezers and equipment really as a backup. The system is designed that the vaccine will get sent directly to the administration site. And we hope that, you know, it will be used. We want the vaccine to go into arms and not really to go into storage. I think you see that those purchasing as a backup, which is important, and, you know, we haven't seen a shortage of the ultra-cold storage equipment. It does take some time to get.

But states are also, you know, looking at where they have that storage within their state, academic institutions, at hospitals. You know, where they already can use that. And also, you know, we have this innovative thermal shipping box that can maintain ultra-cold temperatures for up to 15 days with dry ice. And we now have a commitment from the federal government to supply that initial dose of dry ice and to supply the gloves needed to handle the dry ice.

So I think we're feeling much-- we're in a much better place than we were as far as looking at this a month ago. You know, we have these innovative solutions, and we have the backup plans. So I think it's really good. We really want to use the vaccine, you know, when it gets to the point, and we have five days that it's stable-- at a refrigerator stable temperature, so that's the ideal-- you know, that's the ideal way to go, to get the vaccine into arms and not have to put it into storage.


AKIKO FUJITA: Yes, certainly hope that it will be, in fact, a smooth transition there. Claire Hannon, the Association of Immunization Managers director, really appreciate your time. And our thanks to Anjalee Khemlani as well.