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Pressure to create a coronavirus vaccine is increasing by the day, but for a safe vaccine to enter the market, it takes time.

USA TODAY

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Thursday said the state will distribute a significant increase of influenza vaccinations heading into the winter as public health officials work to fight the confluence of flu season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Harris said the flu vaccination campaign, which Alabama Department of Public Health expects to see “10 to 15 times” the average annual flu dosages, is also a chance for medical providers and public health providers to institute a test run of COVID-19 vaccinations in the next year. 

“We’re using the number of doses to get ready for COVID, but we also really want people to get the flu vaccines, this year more than ever,” Harris said.

ADPH staff on Thursday briefed media on ongoing plans for expected vaccines and their distribution within the state. It’s an ongoing challenge, Harris said, as multiple entities are currently working to develop multiple potential vaccine candidates. 

“We want to make sure the public understands we’re trying to have an open and transparent process,” Harris said. “We want to makes sure we reach equitable solutions to the many problems we have around a vaccine. We also want people to have appropriate expectations about what the timeline is.”

Harris said federal officials have suggested a vaccine could be finalized by the end of the year, but “it will not be available in sufficient numbers to meet the demand.” A scaled up vaccine could be available by spring or mid-summer, Harris said. 

There are 49 COVID-19 candidate vaccines in clinical trials around the world, nine of which are in the later stages of development, USA Today reported this week. Multiple vaccine candidates are being developed to address the widespread and deadly COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible. Despite the race for a vaccine, Harris said he believes the vaccines are being developed safely, as evidenced by pauses to two major vaccine trials in recent weeks that show scientists are following the data. 

“Vaccine trials being put on hold gives me the most confidence,” Harris said. “It shows they’re paying attention to safety.”

More: Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson have paused COVID-19 vaccine trials. Why experts say that’s reassuring, not frightening

Though multiple vaccine candidates likely means a quicker vaccine for citizens, it’s a logistical challenge for states and public health officials who have to prepare for multiple contingencies. One vaccine might require multiple doses, which means the state needs to develop a system for tracking patients through the entire vaccine schedule. Another vaccine might have specific storage requirements, such as sub-zero temperatures. 

Harris said ADPH plans to submit Alabama’s first vaccination distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 17. The federal government will provide guidance on how to prioritize vaccinations but states are also developing their own guidelines, Harris said. 

Both Harris and Dr. Karen Landers, Assistant State Health Officer, acknowledged Thursday that in addition to the logistics of vaccine distribution, health officials must also work to combat personal resistance to vaccinations. In recent years, a growing number of American children are not receiving recommended vaccinations, the CDC reports, and the World Health Organization in 2019 deemed vaccine “hesitancy” a “global health threat.”

ADPH plans to work with community and faith leaders in the coming months to provide vaccine education and information. 

“There are many people who have legitimate questions and need those questions answered, and hopefully answered by a trusted medical provider, a trusted information source,” Harris said. “We have a lot of work to do with a vaccine program arriving this quickly, amidst all the other turmoil going on.”

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Melissa Brown at 334-240-0132 or mabrown@gannett.com.

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