Hawaii officials said Friday they’ve drafted a plan to deal with the enormous logistical hurdles of distributing a coronavirus vaccine when one is finally approved.

They submitted Hawaii’s COVID-19 vaccination plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by a federal deadline Friday, but refused to publicly share the document.

There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But with the expectation that a vaccine will gain emergency approval within the next couple of months, the CDC is asking state health authorities to begin making plans now.

Image of Hand holds Coronavirus Covid-19 Vaccine glass bottle.
States are making plans to acquire and distribute vaccines if and when they are approved by federal authorities. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The plan focuses on COVID-19 vaccine storage, distribution and messaging, according to Douglas Carroll, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Carroll said state officials plan to publicly share the plan in the next few weeks.

The CDC did not respond to a request for a copy of Hawaii’s proposal. But in guidelines sent to states in September, CDC officials said they expect a vaccine will be granted emergency permission for use in the coming months, and state authorities should expect to receive some vaccines even before the vaccines complete formal federal approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In the meantime, states must determine how they’ll ship, store and distribute the vaccines that must be kept in subzero temperatures and sometimes given to people in more than one dose.

The Department of Health is the lead agency charged with creating a plan. Other agencies involved in the planning include the state Attorney General, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii and the Hawaii National Guard.

A statewide vaccination program for several hundred thousand people is going to have to be a strategic operation, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is involved with coordinating the program’s infrastructure.

Health department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the agency would not provide a copy of the draft Friday but more details about the plan will be announced next week.

“Right now we’re sharing it with other agencies and organizations,” Okubo said. “Next week we’ll be able to answer questions.”

Green, the state’s COVID-19 liaison and an emergency medicine physician, said he expects only a small number of vaccinations will be available during the first phase of the vaccination program.

“We’re still in the process and planning phase obviously because we don’t have the vaccine yet,” he said. “It could be one, two, four vaccinations. This is not specific to one vaccine or another.”

The first vaccines available will likely be offered to certain priority groups, such as seniors, first responders and health care workers, he said.

A CDC document outlining hypothetical scenarios published by the New York Times confirms those priority populations. CDC officials said vaccines will be free of cost.

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told a Hawaii audience this month a vaccine could be approved by the end of the year. Two clinical trials of four leading vaccine candidates were canceled this week over safety concerns.

Some experts caution the ambitious timeline proposed by the federal government is too rushed.

Green said the health department plans to conduct an extra assessment of any federally approved vaccines to ensure their safety before they are distributed but did not provide further details of what that assessment would entail.

“Some states like New York have already decided that they’d like to assess it and I think that’s prudent because the vaccine is being accelerated,” he said. “Everyone in the scientific community, we physicians, want them to do the thorough research to make sure it’s safe.”

COVID-19 has infected more than 13,800 people in Hawaii, at least 988 of whom have been hospitalized since March.

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author