WASHINGTON — Practice runs for distributing COVID-19 vaccines to Louisiana hospitals. A plan to have every Florida nursing home resident vaccinated by the end of the year. And in Tennessee, building off of a statewide system already in place to boost vaccination rates.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and his counterparts from Tennessee, Florida and Texas on Tuesday shared how their states have been preparing for the massive challenge that will begin as soon as Friday: distributing COVID-19 vaccines to their residents quickly, safely and equitably.
Their remarks were part of an afternoon-long White House coronavirus vaccine summit, in which President Donald Trump praised his administration’s efforts to fast-track potential vaccines. Trump has come under heavy criticism for not doing enough to battle the pandemic.
Key officials from Operation Warp Speed, which has provided funding and logistics support for the development and deployment of vaccines and potential treatments for the virus, described what will come after the Food and Drug Administration gives a green light.
That approval for a vaccine produced by Pfizer could come later this week, with a second vaccine from Moderna slated for consideration next week.
Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said the goal is to have shots administered within 96 hours of federal approval. The administration’s directive is to support states in ensuring that can happen, Perna said.
“They know their states, they know their people. They are being informed by highly professional medical professionals,” he said.
The governors in attendance Tuesday emphasized the preparations they’ve put in place.
Edwards, the only Democrat on the panel, said he and other officials have been working since last spring to prepare, running simulations with Louisiana State University’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training that helped identify gaps in their plans.
“It’s not anything new. It’s just at a scale that we don’t typically have to do it at,” Edwards said.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, said his state’s annual flu vaccination effort, Fight Flu TN, gave officials a blueprint for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine rollout. That’s given public health officials practice in the logistics and communication needed to successfully carry out vaccine efforts quickly.
Lee thanked federal officials for their assistance, adding that it will be up to the states not only to get vaccines out the door, but also to ensure that residents want to take them.
“We want to communicate it in a way that they are fully informed, so they can make a choice and understand the safety and efficacy and the certainty with which we think this has been delivered,” Lee said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said his state has focused on protecting vulnerable populations first, projecting that every resident of a nursing home and long-term care facility could be vaccinated in the month of December.
Those residents not only are particularly vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 infections, but they also have seen detrimental mental health effects from precautions intended to keep them safe from infection, DeSantis said.
“Look, we allow visitors, but you have to take all these precautions, you can’t just live normally, and it’s taking a huge toll on these folks, and so we see loneliness, despair,” DeSantis said.
State officials are tasked with crafting their own plans for which groups will be prioritized for receiving vaccines first. Federal officials have urged them to inoculate health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities first, with the next stages likely to include essential workers not in the health care industry, and then people older than 65 and those with underlying health conditions.