WESTFIELD, NJ — Officials are in the early stages of planning mass vaccination clinics for COVID-19, the director of the Westfield Regional Health Department said Monday.
Director Megan Avallone, who serves as local health departments’ lead to the state Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination task force, told the Westfield Board of Health the vaccines could be available for public use this winter.
“We’ve been working with the CDC and the [state] Department of Health, and we are looking to start mass vaccination clinics for the public hopefully starting this winter,” Avallone said.
Officials anticipate that several products will be available in a two-dose form, she said. “The guidance is if you start with one brand you need to continue with the same brand,” Avallone said.
The new vaccination will have to be stored frozen, she said, which may present a challenge for healthcare providers.
“Other than pediatricians, most healthcare providers don’t have the ability to store frozen vaccines,” Avallone said.
In May, the state Health Department had estimated that development of a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months. Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy in a COVID-19 briefing referenced progress in development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I had a very good conversation with the CEO of Moderna, which is one of the big vaccine players right now alongside Pfizer, and then the combination of AstraZeneca and Oxford University,” Murphy then said.
Avallone noted that part of the challenge in administering the vaccine will be maintaining social distancing — something that was not a concern when health departments administered the H1N1 vaccine in 2009.
“During H1N1 we did these vaccination clinics, and they were very successful, but during H1N1 we were able to have 400 people in a gymnasium and call them in 50 people at a time,” she said. “That is not going to be acceptable, obviously, this time around.”
Among the possibilities for administration of the vaccine could be administration at drive-through clinics with preregistration required. The first doses of the vaccine would be given to at-risk populations and healthcare workers, Avallone said.
The vaccines, which have reached the final stages of trials also have to be mixed on site, unlike other vaccines which come already prepared, she said.
“From a nurse’s perspective, everything that you don’t want in a mass vaccination clinic is currently what we have, but we will find a way to get it done,” Avallone said.
She anticipates administration of the vaccines could keep her department occupied for months.
“Because this will be a federal vaccine, it’s not just that we give the vaccine and call it a day,” Avallone said. “There is monitoring that has to take place. We have to do call backs now for a second shot, and every single dose has to be accounted for.”
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