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Wed. 11:15 a.m.: US outlines sweeping plan to provide free COVID-19 vaccines

FILE - In this July 30, 2020 photo, Kai Hu, a research associate transfers medium to cells, in the laboratory at Imperial College in London. Imperial College is working on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, key federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually early next year or later in 2020, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government outlined a sweeping plan today to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, assuming a safe and effective shot is established and widely accepted though polls show skepticism remains across America.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketched out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or even later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers would be the ones giving shots.

The campaign is “much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,” says the playbook for states from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although President Donald Trump asserted Tuesday in an ABC News town hall that a vaccine could be three to four weeks away, officials made it clear to reporters on a call Wednesday that widespread availability would take months.

Among the highlights of the plan:

— For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drugmaker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.

— Vaccination of the U.S. population won’t be a sprint but a marathon. Initially there may be a limited supply of vaccines, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups. “Early in (the) COVID-19 vaccination program there may be a limited supply of vaccine and vaccine efforts may focus on those critical to the response, providing direct care and maintaining societal functions, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said . A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire population.

— The vaccine itself will be free of charge, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration. The goal is that patients won’t be separately charged for administration of their shots, and officials say they are working to ensure that’s the case for all Medicare recipients and uninsured people as well those covered by insurance at their jobs.

— States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans.

— A massive information technology effort will be needed to track who is getting which vaccines and when, and the key challenge involves getting multiple public and private databases to link with each other.

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