NOTE: What I write today is true today. New information is rapidly emerging and updates are forthcoming when relevant.
BACKGROUND: Vaccine availability is all about supply and demand and distribution. This is true whether we are talking about the situation a year ago involving toilet paper or certain food ingredients like yeast, or vaccines now.
Unlike toilet paper and food, one cannot buy and store vaccines for personal use as they require special handling. It’s simple; right now the demand is exceeding supply.
QUESTION: Considering the supply side, how exactly do you make a vaccine?
ANSWER: The steps to making the vaccine were reviewed recently in the online publication Axios.
A summary of the interview with the people at Pfizer is below. Each facility was originally built to handle a different part of the process. Pfizer states that combining them at the moment is not currently feasible.
Step one: The vaccine’s first critical ingredient, making the DNA, is done in Chesterfield, Missouri. It is purified and frozen and then shipped.
Step two: The next laboratory step is to produce the mRNA vaccine. This complicated and detailed process occurs in Andover, Massachusetts.
Step three: The mRNA vaccine is then shipped to Kalamazoo, Michigan where it is wrapped in a nanoparticle, which is a microscopic fat particle that surrounds the mRNA, making it easier to enter the body.
The completed vaccine is then transferred into vials that will be shipped across the country.
QUESTION: Now that the vaccine is made, how does it move from the factory to distribution points?
ANSWER: At this point, it’s all about fragility and freezing. The vaccine is fragile and must be kept in sub zero freezers during transport and at its final distribution destination.
QUESTION: As Americans we excel at innovations. What can be done to increase vaccine availability?
ANSWER: Both Pfizer and Moderna are attempting to add processing capability and efficiency to their production without impacting quality standards.
In an attempt to be efficient, they are adding more doses per vial. In fact, with a special syringe, there is often the ability to get an extra dose from the vial as it is currently produced.
QUESTION: President Biden has enacted the Defense Production Act allowing mobilization of relevant domestic industries. Will that help vaccine production?
ANSWER: The manufacturing of critical ingredients and supplies (ex. vials and syringes) could be re-appropriated for COVID-19 vaccine production.
QUESTION: So if they build more factories or improve manufacturing of the vaccines, when will more be available?
ANSWER: Sometime between the spring and early summer the country should be able to vaccinate more than the current 1.5 million people a day.
As a comparison, this is about half of what is typically done in a day during flu season.
This increased availability will be the result of Pfizer and Moderna increasing production.
Other vaccine companies are expected to be getting approval from the FDA shortly. This will add to vaccine availability.
QUESTION: So now that I understand the process, tell me in one sentence why I should get the vaccine?
ANSWER: Number of COVID-19 deaths post full vaccination is zero. Number of severely hospitalized patients post fully vaccinated decreased by 95 percent.
INFORMATION: For more information about COVID-19 and the vaccines, eligibility and appointments, see the links below.
Pharmacies will be getting small shipments of vaccines in the near future.
Information will be posted in this newspaper and on the county public health web pages.
Buena Vista resources for vaccines: Buena Vista Drug and Valley-Wide Health.
LUNCH AND LEARN: Chaffee County Public Health will host a lunch and learn on Zoom at noon Feb. 25. The link is https://zoom.us/j/85615095570 and passcode is 879014. To call in dial 1-253-215-8782.
QUESTIONS: If you have a COVID-19 related question, please send it to email@example.com and I will attempt to answer it in the next few weeks.
Dr. Lydia Segal is trying to be a retired board-certified family practice doctor who also has a Masters in Public Health.(In a former life she was a general assignment reporter for a newspaper in Arizona. ) Currently she also co-teaches at the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center with the pelvic physical therapists classes on men’s and women’s health.