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CEO Message: Hard Work on COVID-19 Vaccine Just Beginning

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Across the world, researchers are racing to develop a safe vaccine for COVID-19 and, depending on their progress, approval of one or more vaccines could come as soon as the next couple of months or, more likely, into the second quarter of 2021. And then, mass production of vaccine would just begin. 

This ambitious effort, at this pace, is the first of its kind, yet its scope pales in comparison to the complexity of what will come next: distributing hundreds of millions of doses of a novel vaccine (or vaccines) across the country. 

Front-line health care workers are likely to be prioritized for the vaccine, and hospitals and health systems will be called upon to offer the vaccine to their employees, as they do the flu vaccine. But they will likely also be called upon to serve as vaccine distribution sites for other hospitals’ employees, other health care workers, first responders, essential workers like grocery employees and eventually, the general public.  

Given the challenges with likely multiple vaccines — special storage and handling for some (the Pfizer candidate needs to be stored at -70 degree Celsius), the need for two doses of the same vaccine three to four weeks apart, the need to accurately verify who is and is not on the priority list for vaccination, and public attitudes toward vaccination — this will be a difficult undertaking. 

To help ensure a sound plan and smooth implementation, CHA is engaged on your behalf in several ways: 

  • CHA serves on the state’s group developing a vaccine distribution plan. We meet weekly with other key associations to discuss and advise the state on their thinking. 
  • We’ve established a COVID-19 Vaccine Work Group, whose first meeting was held last week. The group is composed of hospital leaders representing infectious disease and infection prevention, quality and patient safety, pharmacy, employee health, human resources, rural health, and IT, among other specialties. This group will help shape CHA’s views on distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, as the federal government will be leaving many prioritization and implementation decisions up to each state — in our case, to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). This work group will meet every two weeks to discuss issues around safety and effectiveness, logistics, vaccine acceptance, storage capacity, data reporting, and more. 
  • CHA will continue to co-convene with CMA infectious disease leaders from across the state to advise on this process. 
  • CHA advised the state on the development of a first survey of all hospitals sent earlier this week by CDPH. The survey will allow us to understand information key to successful distribution, including each hospital’s lead for vaccine distribution, number of staff by four categories of risk defined by CDPH, cubic feet of available ultra-cold freezer storage capacity, electronic health and electronic medical record vendor information, and more. 

 A safe, effective, and easily accessible vaccine is an undeniable prerequisite for long-term success in the battle against COVID-19, but its development is just the first step in a much longer journey. This early work will help smooth the path for California to lead the nation in vaccine distribution as soon as is practical. 

~ Carmela