Trumbull prepares for COVID vaccine

The US plans to distribute 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine after it is cleared for emergency use, officials said November 24, 2020.

The US plans to distribute 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine after it is cleared for emergency use, officials said November 24, 2020.

Joel Saget / Getty Images

TRUMBULL — With several COVID-19 vaccines showing promise, the town is on track to begin taking action as soon as the vaccines become available.

“According to the information we’re getting from the state, it (vaccine) is coming,” Health Director Luci Bango said.

Bango said local officials are hopeful the vaccines could begin arriving in town by late next month.

That doesn’t mean people should begin lining up at the department, though. The initial supply will be dedicated to critical workers, who form the core of the Tier 1.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines Tier 1 as workers whose illness and absenteeism would worsen the pandemic, and people whose occupation results in a high risk of contact with people who may carry the virus.

“Emergency responders, doctors, nurses, those are the people we’ll be dealing with at first,” Bango said.

To help prepare for the vaccine’s expected availability, Trumbull recently received a $7,400 state grant to purchase a refrigeration unit and protective equipment for the town’s essential workers. The CDC says vaccines must be stored at temperatures ranging from a refrigerator-like 35 degrees Fahrenheit to an ultra-cold negative-112 degrees.

“COVID-19 vaccine products are temperature-sensitive and must be stored and handled correctly to ensure efficacy and maximize shelf life” the CDC advised on Oct. 29. “Proper storage and handling practices are critical to minimize vaccine loss and limit risk of administering COVID-19 vaccine with reduced effectiveness.”

Such extreme temperature requirements mean that a normal refrigerator, or even an industrial freezer, will not suffice.

“It’s a specialized storage unit, they cost about $5,000,” Bango said.

Once critical workers have been immunized, health workers can move on to the other groups in the 5-tier CDC ranking system. Tier 2 includes safety and security workers, and the highest-risk children. Tier 3 includes general health care workers and infrastructure workers like truck drivers. Tier 4 includes older adults and those with underlying medical conditions. Healthy adults in the general population comprise Tier 5.

The entire process is likely to take months and its ultimate effectiveness is uncertain, Bango said.

“The vaccines have shown an efficacy rate of 90 percent or more, but it also is going to come down to how many people get the vaccine,” she said.

A vaccine’s efficacy rate is defined as the reduction in disease in a vaccinated group of people versus an unvaccinated group. For comparison, the CDC reports flu vaccines reduce the risk of contracting the flu by between 40 percent and 60 percent compared to non-vaccinated people. The smallpox vaccine, which is credited with eradicating the disease, had about a 95 percent efficacy according to the CDC.

Bango said the vaccine, when available, would be just the start of a long effort to return to a pre-COVID society.

“This isn’t it. This isn’t the end,” she said. “But this is a real step in the right direction.”