Berrien County Board of Health discusses COVID-19 vaccine deployment

BERRIEN COUNTY — The Berrien County Board of Health discussed what a possible COVID-19 vaccine deployment may look like for the area at its meeting Wednesday morning.

Courtney Davis, deputy health officer for the Berrien County Health Department, said the health department’s current biggest area of focus was preparing for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccinations.

Currently, two major drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have applied for emergency use authorizations with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We are really gearing up to potentially get some of that vaccination here in December,” Davis said.
Davis discussed target dates, but prefaced that the dates are targets and not absolutes at this time.

The tentative dates from the FDA for the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine could be as early as Dec. 14 and 15.

“These are loose, moving dates,” Davis said. “I think they’re fairly good to learn on, but there could be some alterations.”

Davis said Moderna is moving quickly behind Pfizer. Where there was once weeks between their approvals, she now believes there are probably just days.

If the vaccines are approved, there are still many steps public health officials will be coordinating.

“Last night, the advisory committee on immunizations practices made a recommendation on who will be the initial individuals to get those vaccines,” Davis said.

If approved, Davis said the Pfizer vaccine could be shipped out as early as Dec. 18.

She said there have been five different “hubs” in Michigan identified to receive the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccination. These hubs all have the capability of keeping the vaccine in its required ultra-cold, negative 70-degree Celsius storage.

“There are some [cold storage] in the Spectrum Health network,” Davis said. “From there, it would be portioned off to local hospitals and local health departments.”

The Pfizer vaccine also must be ordered in increments of 1,000, making both storage and deployment the challenge to meet at the same time. If Moderna’s vaccine is approved, it does not have the same 70-degree Celsius storage requirement, and can be ordered in increments of 100.

“The Moderna vaccine will be a much friendlier vaccine for smaller, rural communities,” Davis said.

The first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations will be in a Tier 1 category, which is divided into three parts.

The Tier 1 category is divided into 1A, 1B and 1C. The top tier, 1A, will receive the vaccine first and is made up of healthcare professionals and providers, as well as long-term care residents and those in congregate community care settings.

“When you move into the 1B category, the group being talked about in the second tier would be the essential and critical infrastructure workers,” Davis said. “There’s still a lot of discussion happening around that. I anticipate there will be changes.”

The Berrien County Health Department has been practicing different vaccine deployment methods with this year’s flu vaccines.

“We are looking at how to put this together,” Davis said.

Davis said drive-thrus have been used and practiced for deploying this year’s flu shot.

“The later we get into December, the snow will come and so will our colder weather,” Davis said. “We are hoping to work with our fire chiefs and utilize their drive-thru space. We were able to do that in Chikaming [Township] Fire Department with the flu vaccine. It worked really well.”

Utilizing fire department garage space will allow medical professionals to administer the vaccine without bringing mass amounts of people into a completely indoor space.

Davis said the vaccines are projected to take some time to administer to the first tier of recipients.

“Early projections show that between December and the end of April there is the anticipation that, as a county, we would be able to vaccinate the majority of people in that 1A, 1B and 1C category,” Davis said. “So, when we think of the general population’s mass vaccine availability, it looks more like later April or May.”

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