AUGUSTA, Maine — Health officials and our elected leaders are coming together to figure out how to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine in Maine.
The CDC said it has been preparing for months now for the process of administering and distributing a vaccine to Mainers.
The vaccine will first go to people on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight: health care workers and first responders. It may take many more months before it is accessible to the general public.
University of New England School of Pharmacy Professor Kenneth McCall said that is because there are significant logistical challenges to deploying these vaccines. He points to two key challenges.
First, both vaccines require recipients to take two doses.
"Production of those vaccines is on the scale of millions of doses."
Second, the vaccines must be kept at cold temperatures as they move across the country and state.
McCall said, "It's always the last 10 miles of the supply chain that's the most logistically challenging."
The Pfizer vaccine must be kept between negative 70 and negative 80 degrees Celsius.
The Moderna vaccine must be kept at just negative 20 degrees Celsius, making it more easily transportable.
CDC Director Nirav Shah said, "the Pfizer vaccine is one where for the most part we want to bring people to the vaccine because of that storage requirement. With the Moderna vaccine, we'll be able to bring that vaccine to people."
Another challenge Maine's health care leaders are preparing for is how to give Mainers confidence that these vaccines are safe.
Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud said, "I think we'll be able to figure out all the logistics of distributing the vaccine. The bigger challenge is assuring folks that this is safe and should be used."
"I would argue that it is one of the greatest concerns the Maine CDC, Maine state government, and us healthcare providers face."
Research about the vaccines is expected to be published soon and reviewed by career scientists and health experts. Dr. Shah said their analyses will determine how he advocates for the vaccines.
Shah said, "Once those two things are combined and I've taken a look at all the data and analysis, all of which is independent, that's when I will feel comfortable taking the vaccine myself and recommending it to my mom, to my spouse."
During Monday's CDC briefing, Shah said with months left before the general public will receive a vaccine, we can't let our guard down about COVID-19 prevention measures.
"It's important that we all continue to use the tools that are available to us today like wearing a face-covering, maintaining physical distancing, and avoiding crowds and gathering."
In order to ease pressure on our health care workers in the meantime, McCall said one precaution you can take now is getting a flu shot.