COVID-19 vaccine prospects near; distribution plans ramp up

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to review Pfizer's application for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine.

If approved, hundreds of millions of doses will already be available. State and local leaders must now determine who will be eligible to receive the first doses.

"Now that we’re looking at 90-95% (efficacy), this is incredible," said Jon Temte, medical director for Public Health Madison & Dane County.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee on immunization practices voted to recommend that the vaccine go to two groups first -- health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Immunization and public health experts with UW-Madison say that the guidelines for distribution will allow for flexibility at the state and local level, with community input encouraged.

"Wisconsin, middle of the winter, snowplow drivers are important people. That’s a Wisconsin Minnesota consideration. That’s not a Florida consideration," Temte said.

"It is public participation that helps to define the values and the goals that we want to emphasize," Alta Charo, professor of law and bioethics at UW-Madison, said.

Once each state's priority list is determined, Wisconsin will play a major role in Pfizer's distribution plans. The company is shipping doses across the country from its two distribution sites -- one here, in Pleasant Prairie, and the other in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Pfizer distribution center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin,

As other COVID-19 vaccines get the green light from the FDA, experts say access will expand to other populations and efficacy will likely improve.

"Some may have side effects that are more easily tolerated by the elderly than others. Some may turn out to have better effect in the morbidly obese," said Charo.

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Not included in current clinical trials are children and pregnant women. Pfizer is set to begin studies soon in children ages 12 to 16.

As more vaccines get the green light from the FDA, experts say data on safety and efficacy across different populations will become available.

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