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CDC directs Connecticut to come up with a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

Washington — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has given states a tight deadline — and some money — to come up with a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.

Connecticut, meanwhile, has just begun to put together a group that will develop that plan.

Redfield has given all states a deadline of Oct. 16 to supply the CDC with a distribution plan for a vaccine whose supply will be limited and initially available to only a small percentage of each state’s residents.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced just this week that he is creating a working group to prepare Connecticut for the potential development of a COVID-19 vaccine. In a statement, the governor said the “COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group will be responsible for optimizing a statewide vaccine distribution strategy, and communicating critical medical information about the vaccine with the state’s residents.”

The new panel will be co-chaired by Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the state Department of Public Health; and Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England.

But the group’s “rank and file members” are still in the process of being appointed. Lamont expects these individuals to include vaccination experts, vaccine providers, state agency representatives, state legislators, labor representatives, emergency management officials and representatives of highly impacted communities.

“We have a responsibility to provide critical medical information and safeguards to the residents of our state, and I want to ensure that we have a plan in place for when a vaccine is developed and becomes available to the public,” Lamont said in announcing the group. “I want this group to review every possible scenario when it comes to the science and efficacy of the vaccine, as well as the logistics of its distribution.”

The Lamont administration did not say whether the advisory group could meet the Oct. 16 deadline, but spokesman Max Reiss said the state Department of Public Health “has been in internal planning for vaccine distribution for weeks.”

“Gov. Lamont is one of the first chief elected officials in the country to even begin to assemble a COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group,” Reiss said. He also said “the state will continue to engage local stakeholders in all vaccine distribution plans.”

Many states are using their influenza distribution plans as blueprints for their COVID-19 plans.

A COVID-19 vaccine is still in the works. Three pharmaceutical companies with contracts with the federal government — Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — are in their final clinical trials and a fourth, Johnson & Johnson, is just beginning its final clinical trial.

But the Trump administration, which has launched “Operation Warp Speed” to speed a COVID-19 vaccine, wants the states to be ready for distribution as soon as possible.

Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Pension and Labor, or HELP, Committee on Wednesday, Redfield said he had sent the states $200 million to help develop distribution plans. Connecticut’s grant amount is a little more than $2.4 million.

Reiss did not say how the state would spend the money but did say that “the state has been transparent and will continue to be transparent with all coronavirus spending.”

Connecticut will identify which doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and health centers are able to immunize individuals — free of charge — and the CDC will send the vaccine to those distribution sites. The amount of vaccine each state receives will be based on a formula that considers population as well as other factors.

Redfield said more than 90% of the U.S. population remains susceptible to the virus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci was also a witness at Wednesday’s hearing. He said it “might take some time” for the Food and Drug Administration to approve a COVID-19 vaccine because of the “rigorous clinical testing required.”

Yet Fauci also said there is “growing optimism” that scientists will find one or more safe and effective vaccines by the end of the year or early 2021 and the United States could have enough vaccine doses by April.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the HELP Committee, pressed Fauci on the long-lasting effects of a coronavirus infection, including the inflammatory heart disease that has been diagnosed in athletes who contracted COVID-19.

Fauci said more time is needed to determine if the damage the coronavirus wreaks on the heart and other organs is permanent or temporary.

Murphy said insurers are “conservative” by nature and likely to consider COVID-19 a “pre-existing” condition. Insurers are prohibited by the Affordable Care Act from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions.

But the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the ACA next month.

“If the Supreme Court invalidates the ACA, we will see (premium) rates skyrocket,” Murphy said.

Ana Radelat is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2020 © The Connecticut Mirror.

aradelat@ctmirror.org

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