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Valley to follow CDC vaccine rules

Federal playbook sets pecking order for distribution

Local health officials already are planning how to distribute a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Officials with the Trumbull County Combined Health and the Mahoning County Public Health districts are working off guidelines presented in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations. It details the order in which the vaccine should be distributed, if availability is limited.

The playbook advises health districts to count up how many people in the county work in different fields because the vaccine will first be distributed to certain populations, before it is widely available, if initial doses are limited.

A vaccine has not been approved for distribution yet.

But the CDC states in its playbook a vaccine will be essential to “reduce COVID-19-related illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths and to help restore societal functioning.

“The goal of the U.S. government is to have enough COVID-19 vaccine for all people in the United States who wish to be vaccinated. Early in the COVID-19 vaccination program, there may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccination efforts may focus on those critical to the response, providing direct care to and maintaining societal function, as well as those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19,” the playbook states.

The Ohio Department of Health has not produced a vaccine plan yet, said Ryan Tekac, Mahoning County health commissioner.

“The way the vaccine will be distributed is based on how CDC and ODH determines the specific stages and populations who will be addressed in those specific stages. CDC is currently working through plans with contracting with pharmacies across the country. We are not involved in this, nor do we have any of the documentation. ODH last week also did not have this specific documentation regarding pharmacy registration,” Tekac said.

Sandra Swann, director of nursing for the Trumbull County health district, said the county is participating in planning meetings with the ODH, but “nothing has materialized from these meetings that can be released to the public.”

The CDC’s playbook has a declaration from Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The declaration invokes a 2005 federal law known as the PREP Act that provides legal immunity for anyone connected to vaccine production, manufacturing, distribution and administration.

The law protects from claims that allege “negligence by a manufacturer in creating a vaccine or negligence by a health care provider in prescribing the wrong dose, absent willful misconduct.”

To prepare for a limited supply of vaccine, the health districts were instructed by the CDC playbook to divide their population into different categories and create phases to determine in which order the supply will be distributed.

People who work in health care, people over 65, people with underlying medical conditions and essential workers “may” be the populations who should receive a vaccine first.

Phase II, which is when more vaccines become available, should focus on anyone in the Phase I category who did not receive a vaccine first, and then to the general population. The network of ways to distribute the vaccine should be expanded at this point, the playbook states.

Phase III occurs when there is enough vaccine to give it to everyone that wants one.

During this phase, distribution should focus on “ensuring equitable vaccination access across the entire population.” Officials should use this phase to determine which populations have not been vaccinated, to make concentrated efforts to get the dose or doses to them.

Phase I can be broken into two sets, first concentrating on health care workers and secondly focusing on other essential workers, such as emergency responders, teachers, school staff, day care workers and food packaging and distribution workers, the playbook states.

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