As Lousiana recorded an estimated 4,339 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday alone and reported more than 1,500 hospitalized due to COVID-19, one health official in the state is hopeful that upcoming vaccine distribution could mean the “end is in sight.”
"It's realistic to think that within 24 hours of this product being authorized, it ships, and then it's going into people's arms a day or two after that," Dr. Joseph Kanter, interim assistant secretary of the Louisiana Health Department's Office of Public Health, told NPR's "Morning Edition" Tuesday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday is expected to meet regarding Pfizer and BioNTech’s applications for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. (Documents posted ahead of the meeting showed the vaccine candidate meets such requirements from the federal agency.)
An independent advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended last week that following FDA approval, the vaccine should first be distributed to residents and staff of long-term care facilities and health care workers.
Kanter told NPR the state plans to follow this guidance upon approval.
“Hospitals are ready,” he said. “We actually drilled — end to end, the whole scheme — a couple [of] weeks ago. We did it on a weekend to make sure that folks were ready to receive, even on a weekend. And all in all that exercise went fairly smoothly.”
The health officials said a “dummy vaccine” was used, and despite a “couple [of] snags here and there” things went as planned.
“By and large the packages arrived when they were supposed to, people were ready to accept them, ready to administer and we felt confident that when it comes — and we don't know the exact date — but when it does come, we'll be ready and I do think most every other state will be ready as well,” he said.
Kanter said he expects the state to receive some 39,000 doses in the first week’s shipment, which will first be delivered to the larger hospitals in the state. For smaller hospitals, “we'll receive it centrally in Louisiana, subdivide it, subdistribute it, all under the ultracold requirements and then get it out.”
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius or below. Breaking the cold chain could render the vaccine useless, what some experts have said may prove to be a logistical snag.
“Once this product leaves ultracold, you have five days to administer it. So we will not be hoarding or putting any product on the shelf. It will be administered very, very quickly,” added Kanter.
He noted that while the expected vaccine distribution in the state could mean “the end [of the pandemic] is in sight,” health officials and residents in the state have to keep their guard up until everyone can receive the shot.
“The end is in sight, and that's incredibly exciting. I really am excited and encouraged by it. The challenge here is we've still got to keep our eyes on the road,” he said, noting that the majority of people will likely not be vaccinated until the summer.
Fox News' Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.