By Jessica Mathews /

Local health officials say planning is underway for when COVID-19 vaccine distribution is possible.

The Livingston County Health Department has been in conversations internally and externally with hospital partners in anticipation of vaccines being distributed nationwide and across Michigan. That’s more than likely sometime in December. At a recent virtual event, Medical Director Dr. Juan Marquez stated the two vaccines to likely be rolled out first are from Pfizer and Moderna, which involve new technology and have showed promising results with around 95% effectiveness for each. However, both are said to have a lot of logistical challenges associated with them because of the nature of the vaccines.

Pfizer’s needs to be stored at subzero temperatures, but both need to be administered in two doses. Marquez said Pfizer’s must be kept at negative 70-degrees Celsius in a super cold refrigerator. He said there are some challenges with duration after removing it from the super cold temperature and their team is working to figure out how to best work through some of the logistical challenges. Marquez said the other vaccine can be kept at a more reasonable temperature but there are other issues, noting both are two-dose vaccines. One is 21 days and another 28 days so Marquez said it will be a challenge finding out how to remind people to get their second dose.

As for the ability of local hospitals to handle the super cold Pfizer product, St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell was said to be investigating the ability to do so. Even without the specialized equipment, Marquez commented that the vaccine can still be safely stored and distributed. Marquez said even if hospitals don’t have one, the vaccine can live for two weeks in the shipping container it comes in, packed with dry ice. He said there are certain complications related to how many times the container can be opened on any given day but noted it is stable for almost three weeks through a combination of dry ice and refrigeration so if hospitals don’t get a super cold freezer, it is still possible to use in a safe manner.

Marquez said any vaccine would be distributed in three phases due to limited supply. He said they’re working very hard in partnership with local healthcare systems to meet that Phase 1 prioritization to get the top-tier and highest risk vaccinated. Marquez said it’s a very complicated process with a lot of moving parts but they have a very strong team working on planning and logistics.

Phase 1 is geared toward healthcare workers and those providing care for people with COVID-19 such as emergency department workers, ICU doctors, workers in skilled nursing facilities and public health staff providing COVID testing or vaccines to the general public. Marquez noted there will be a close partnership with hospitals and public health to make sure everyone in that category can get vaccinated. Phase 2 means there’s more of the vaccine but not enough for everybody. It would be provided to those who are not directly exposed to the virus but are providing essential services, as well as others who are at high risk for complications or immune-compromised and over the age of 65. Phase 3 would mean the vaccine is widely available in any doctor’s office, pharmacy, health department or hospital. That’s expected sometime next year.