Washington state and local health officials are closely following the review process for COVID-19 vaccines and expect the first vaccine shipments later this month.

Nathan Johnson, local emergency response coordinator for the Yakima Health District, said Pfizer and Moderna are in the end stages of vaccine development and are working with the federal Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. He discussed vaccine plans during a health district briefing on Wednesday.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to review the Pfizer vaccine application on Dec. 10, according to an update Thursday from the state Department of Health.

Once the FDA approval is granted, it will be reviewed by a scientific panel put together by the Western States Pact, which includes the states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and California.

“The review by this workgroup will provide another layer of scrutiny and expert review to this process and should take about one to two days,” the DOH said. “This will be done while the vaccine is still being processed and shipped, so it should not cause any delay in making vaccine available to people in Washington.”

The state DOH said it is hopeful it will begin to administer the vaccine in Washington by mid-December. The state expects an initial estimate of 64,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine initially, with an estimated total of about 200,000 doses by the end of December. Regular weekly shipments should begin in January, the DOH said.

Who gets it first?

The state is finalizing its guidance for vaccine distribution with feedback from communities, partners and industries that are heavily impacted by COVID-19, and by the National Academies of Medicine’s framework for vaccine allocation.

The first distribution phase in Washington state, called 1a, will focus on health care workers serving patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, along with staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

Beyond that, the state is still working on distribution plans, and is following the decisions made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it said.

As of Dec. 1, the DOH said 116 providers have fully enrolled in the vaccine program, with many more applications partially completed or pending approval.

In response to questions from the Yakima Herald-Republic, DOH said more information on where agricultural workers fall in the distribution plan will be released soon. Each tribal nation gets to decide whether they will get the vaccine through the state or Indian Health Services.

Distribution locally

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses and need to be stored at super cold temperatures.

Johnson said the Yakima Health District doesn’t have an exact timeline yet for distribution locally, and will work closely with its state and federal partners.

The health district will work closely with Yakima area hospitals and providers like the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, Neighborhood Health and Community Health of Central Washington to distribute the vaccine, he said.

Johnson cautioned that it will take time to get the vaccine in Yakima County, and initial supplies will be limited.

Until the vaccine is widely distributed here people need to continue to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said. People will need to continue to wear masks, keep physical distance from others, stay home when sick, get tested if need be and cooperate with contact tracing efforts.

Margaux Maxwell contributed reporting.

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