NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County officials confirmed they are preparing plans for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine once a vaccine becomes available later this year or early next year.
“Plans are under way. Our Office of Public Health is working with our Office of Public Safety on a plan to do two things,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said on Wednesday during a weekly news briefing at which she updates the public about the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“One is that we have been planning from the beginning to use our six testing sites as vaccine distribution locations,” Arkoosh explained.
Currently, the county has six outdoor walk-up COVID-19 testing sites in Pottstown, Norristown, Lansdale, Willow Grove, Ardmore and Green Lane and it is those sites that could be utilized to distribute vaccines.
“Additionally, the county has a preexisting pod system, a system of setting up locations around the county in a variety of possible locations where this can be done,” Arkoosh said.
Officials said the possible locations could involve setting up tents for drive-thru vaccination distribution programs in the county.
“All of that work is in process. We intend to be fully ready as soon as there is vaccine available to distribute,” Arkoosh said.
Earlier this month, federal government officials told states and local officials to prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready to distribute as early as by Nov. 1.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent all 50 states a “playbook” for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective, which is not yet the case.
Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer, according to the Associated Press.
Arkoosh warned that the vaccine landscape is still evolving and she added that until there is a vaccine, “We are living with this virus and we need to figure out and continue to live with this virus for the foreseeable future.”
“I hope that we have one (a vaccine) as quickly as possible. But even if we had one tomorrow the public has to understand that the population of this country is 330 million people and every vaccine that I’m aware of, at least the ones that are furthest along, are requiring two doses to be effective,” Arkoosh said.
“So, it will take a very long time, probably a minimum of a year for there even to begin to be enough vaccine to vaccinate everybody who wants to be vaccinated. And of course the first people to get the vaccine will be health care workers, first responders and people like that,” Arkoosh added.
While a COVID-19 vaccine may be several months away, Arkoosh did recommend that county residents get a flu vaccine that is currently available.
“I want to be clear that flu shots do not protect you against COVID-19. It is a completely separate virus,” Arkoosh said.
But, Arkoosh explained, the flu shot does reduce the chance of getting the flu or, if one gets the flu, the vaccine can reduce the chance you will have a severe case.
“This is especially important this year because individuals with a severe case of the flu are often hospitalized and some of those individuals need a ventilator to support their breathing,” Arkoosh said.
“In this time of COVID-19, where we are looking toward the fall when the weather will be cooler and people will be more likely to come indoors, which could increase the spread of COVID-19, we want to do everything we can to keep the pressure off our hospitals and particularly also ventilators,” Arkoosh said.
“So, by getting a flu shot, the chances of you needing to be hospitalized for the flu go down dramatically. So please, please get a flu shot,” Arkoosh continued.
During this flu season, the county’s health department is partnering with the Montgomery County Immunization Coalition and Families Fighting Flu to increase flu vaccination rates through text message reminders.
County residents can text MONTCOFLU to 47177 for reminders to get a flu shot, officials said.
“Once you text, you’ll be signed up to receive personalized flu-related information about where you can go to get your flu shot,” Arkoosh said.