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Wyoming prepares for COVID-19 vaccine

Hopes are high that one of the many vaccines being developed for COVID-19 will soon successfully pass the testing phase and be made available to the public, part of an overall strategy to see the pandemic brought under control once and for all.

According to national reports, at least half a dozen potential vaccines have been developed and tested at unprecedented speed and the Food and Drug Administration is preparing the groundwork for its deliberations as to which of them are safe to recommend for public use.

In preparation for that moment, Governor Mark Gordon announced last week that Wyoming has created and submitted an initial plan to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for distributing and administering a COVID-19 vaccine to state citizens.

The governor stressed that the state will not recommend and distribute any vaccine without first having been assured the vaccine is safe. He emphasized during a press conference on Wednesday that the vaccination program will be voluntary.

The vaccine plan assumes that the vaccine will only be available in limited quantities, at least initially. For this reason, it takes a phased approach, utilizing a network of public and private healthcare providers to prioritize certain critical population groups.

These start with the critical infrastructure workforce of Wyoming, which includes healthcare providers, law enforcement, fire departments, correctional facility workers, National Guard and Air Guard, government and federal officials and public utility employees.

The second group includes those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, such as people over the age of 65 and those with underlying medical conditions. The third group is made up of people at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting the virus – including teachers, tribal populations, students, childcare providers, group home residents and correctional facility inmates – and the fourth group includes people with limited access to routine vaccination services, such as those living in rural communities, people with disabilities and under- or uninsured people.

The vaccine is expected to be free of charge and the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) will be issuing it to providers that enroll in the program at no cost. Providers must agree to provide the vaccine regardless of a patient’s ability to pay and will be able to bill insurers for administration costs and seek reimbursement for vaccinating uninsured people.

The plan makes use of infrastructure already in use by the WDH, including in areas such as ordering, distribution and reporting. It is not, however, a finalized plan. Much remains unknown about the potential vaccine and the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s expected that the plan will need to be updated as more details are learned.

One of the most obvious facts that is not yet known is when the vaccine might be released for public use. For that reason, the WDH says it is planning ahead so as to make the most of such a resource as it becomes available.

This is being done through the Immunization Unit, which has long been responsible for vaccine distribution and tracking, and has experience in enrolling providers. Mass vaccination plans have been made in Wyoming for past pandemic efforts, too.

Federal agencies will announce when a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved as part of Operation Warp Speed (OWS). The goal of the OWS project is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines, starting in January 2021, and to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.