COVID-19 vaccine plan shared with lawmakers

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Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, asking Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack a question about COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

FRANKFORT— There are many unknowns when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, reiterated that point during a presentation on the state’s plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution during yesterday’s Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services meeting.

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“There are many details that are still forthcoming, but this is the best we understand it at this time,” Stack said.

While an exact date of when the vaccine will become available has not been set, Stack testified he is optimistic there will be a COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S. sometime in early to mid-December. When the time comes, Kentucky has a distribution plan in place.

Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, asked if the vaccine will be required for the general public or any specific group.

Stack responded that the choice will be voluntary choice and the goal is “that they are making a fully informed decision about the risks and benefits.”

According to Stack’s presentation, high-risk health care workers and first responders will receive the vaccine in Phase 1a followed by Phase 1b with people with underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 along with older adults living in nursing homes, assisted living or rehab facilities.

The phases continue, with teachers and childcare workers and people living in homeless shelters, prisons and jails, and more people with underlying health conditions along with critical workers in high risk settings receiving the vaccine in Phase 2.

Healthy young adults and children would receive the vaccine in Phase 3. By Phase 4, the vaccine will be available to everyone who wants one.

If a vaccine becomes available for those in Phase 1 in December, Stack said it take all of 2021 before everyone who wants a vaccine will have access to one.

While the promise of a vaccine by December is looking optimistic, there are some challenging logistics concerning storage and shelf life of a vaccine once a vial is in use, Stack said. It is also likely everyone will need to receive the vaccine twice for it to be effective, he added. Pharmacies and hospitals are more than likely going to be the ones administering the vaccine.

Overall, Stack said the task of administering the vaccine is going to be “very difficult.”

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, also had concerns about the logistics of distribution because of social distancing requirements and the vaccine’s shelf life.

“I just wonder if we’re being realistic about what you’re saying, about how this is going to be done?” Burch said.

Stack said Burch’s concerns are valid and he’s trying to be realistic about how the process will unfold.