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caption: A COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health, shown here, is one of three vaccines in Phase 3 trials in the U.S. With development and testing underway, health officials are asking states to prepare for limited distribution of a potential vaccine as soon as this fall — though some experts say that's too early.
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A COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health, shown here, is one of three vaccines in Phase 3 trials in the U.S. With development and testing underway, health officials are asking states to prepare for limited distribution of a potential vaccine as soon as this fall — though some experts say that's too early.
Credit: AP

Why Washington state won't rush out a Covid-19 vaccine before it's proven

Vaccines for Covid-19 are still in development but the federal government wants states to be ready to distribute them by November 1.

Washington state health officials say they’re getting ready, but will not distribute any vaccine until it’s proven safe and effective. This week, state health officials outlined what they’re doing to prepare.

KUOW reporter Anna Boiko-Weyrauch talked through it with Morning Edition host, Angela King.

Angela King: Despite what President Trump has said, experts are saying it’s not likely that a vaccine could be ready by November first.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch: Right. It’s the beginning of September now. And there are a number of vaccines in the final stages of testing. But they still have to recruit tens of thousands of people in the studies. Then, in some cases, the volunteers are given two doses of the vaccines with about a month in between. And then they have see if it’s safe and effective. If you look at the records the government has on these studies (here, for example), the records say the studies are not expected to be finished until next year or the year after.

King: But state health officials say they’re shooting for that November 1 goal. Why?

Boiko-Weyrauch: This week the state secretary of health, John Wiesman said they want to be ready no matter when a vaccine has been approved. Still, he stated that Washington state will only distribute a vaccine once it’s safe and effective. That means they’re expecting the vaccines to go through the final stage of testing – that’s phase three testing – before the vaccine is distributed. Wiesman said state officials don't believe in rushing a vaccine.

King: As we said, we’re not at that stage yet, but there’s still plenty for health officials to do in the meantime. What are they thinking about now and what are they doing to prepare?

Boiko-Weyrauch: There are a lot of logistics to think through. The federal government is working with a company to get the vaccine to the states, and then the state has to figure out a lot from there.

“Everything from being able to order the vaccine, to being able to receive the vaccine in the state, to being able to have the infrastructure in place so that people can actually get the vaccine and then being able to track the vaccine,” Secretary of Health, John Wiesman said.

Wiesman expects there will be a small supply of the vaccine at first. So they’re going to have to prioritize who gets it. That hasn’t been finalized yet. Likely first in line will be people with the highest risk. That could be health care workers, essential workers, older people and people who are at risk of complications from Covid.

Then there are other logistics to nail down. What happens if the vaccines have to be stored at really cold temperatures?

And then, Wiesman said, most vaccines require two doses, weeks apart. How do you make sure everyone gets the right second dose? They’ve got to make sure they’re tracking that correctly.

And lastly, are there enough places to administer a vaccine? The state is working with health care providers and considering if they need to create any pop-up mass vaccination clinics, for example.