The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has told states to get ready to distribute a covid-19 vaccine by November 1, two days before the US presidential elections.
The timing of the vaccine has taken on political importance as President Trump seeks re-election in the world’s hardest-hit country. Public health experts have warned that releasing a vaccine before the vote might be rushed through.
According to CDC Director Robert Redfield, US states will receive permit applications from McKesson Corp “in the near future”. McKesson Corp has a contract with the agency to distribute vaccines to state and local health departments and hospitals.
In a letter addressed to governors sent at the end of August, Redfield declared that CDC urgently needs their assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and urges them to help these facilities becoming fully operational by November 1.
According to Johns Hopkins University, to date the United States has registered more than 6.1 million covid-19 cases and 863,445 deaths.
The CDC also prepared and sent three documents to some health departments that included possible timelines for the vaccines’ availability. The documents are supposed to be used for the development of early vaccination plans when the supply might be constrained.
One of the documents presented a scenario in which a vaccine could be available by the end of October. However, the document specifies that the situation is constantly changing, and the scenarios may evolve as more information is available.
Another document states that limited vaccine doses may be available by the beginning of November, but supply will drastically increase in 2021.
The documents also encourage health officials to start now to prepare for the vaccination by deciding which groups to prioritize for the vaccine and identifying providers who will administer the vaccine.
According to James S Blumenstock, senior vice president at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, health agencies were mobilizing to prepare plans as the CDC was offering “an aggressive but necessary timetable.”
Many public health experts said that final stage trials of experimental vaccines are still in the recruiting phase and are at best halfway through that process. The experts did not understand how there could be adequate data on whether the vaccine is effective and safe before November 1.
Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor University’s tropical medicine school, expressed his concerns about whether the FDA would use an emergency use authorisation to approve a vaccine before knowing if it is safe.
Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, previously said that the agency would not cut corners in evaluating vaccines. This week, he said that it might be appropriate to approve a vaccine before the end of clinical trials if the benefits outweighed the risks.
According to Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota infectious disease expert, there is a “credibility gap” between doctors and the FDA about the evaluation of covid-19 vaccines.