By Associated Press - Thursday, October 22, 2020

SEATTLE (AP) - Health officials in Washington state have announced how they plan to distribute the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday released its draft plan to distribute vaccine doses in several phases, outlining for the first time who will have first access, how vaccines will be administered and how the state plans to promote the vaccine to its residents, The Seattle Times reported.

Health officials submitted the plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Friday and released it to the public on Wednesday. Officials said the plan recognizes the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on some communities and promises to take equity into consideration when allocating the doses.

The state’s plan would first prioritize the vaccine to limited, high-risk workers in health care settings, first responders, other essential workers and adults in long-term care facilities. The state then plans to make the vaccine accessible in a “broad network of provider settings” such as pharmacies, community health centers and occupational health clinics. The third phase would address gaps in populations with inequitable access.

“It’s in line with everything we have been tracking, in terms of who the prioritization groups should be,” said Kayla Scrivner, a program manager at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Seattle’ Children’s Hospital Education Director Dr. Douglas Diekema argued if health care workers should be prioritized over those at the greatest risk to die of COVID-19.

“If you can protect yourself with adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), should those people be first in line?” Diekema said.

Abigail Echo-Hawk, the chief research officer for the Urban Indian Health Institute in Seattle who helped develop the National Academies’ nationwide framework, said it is important the plan focuses on equity.

How a vaccine is distributed could mitigate some risks for hard-hit communities of color, she said.

The state has announced plans to start enrolling doctors to give COVID-19 vaccinations in November. About 90% of the 1,000 pharmacies in Washington state have expressed interest in participating in a vaccination program, officials said.

Experts have said the vaccine supply will be limited and it will likely take more than one to vaccinate the country. Several potential vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials and manufacturers could seek authorization for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the next few months.

The plan outlined by Washington state health officials could change as they learn more about the vaccine.

“This is version one of the plan,” Health Department Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts said. “This plan is going to evolve over time.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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