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CDC Urges States To Be Ready For COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When could we actually see an effective vaccine for the coronavirus? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it could be October; at least the agency is telling states they should have plans in place to distribute a vaccine at that point. The CDC director also reportedly sent a letter to governors asking them to fast-track permits and licenses so that vaccine distribution sites can be up and running by November 1.

To talk through what all this means, I'm joined by Dr. Ali Khan. He is the dean of the School of Public Health in Omaha, Neb. He was the director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC. He joins us this morning from Omaha. Thanks so much for being with us.

ALI KHAN: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: First off, Dr. Khan, what do states have to do to get distribution sites up and running for a vaccine? And then how is the CDC trying to hurry that process up?

KHAN: So this is something that CDC is appropriately doing, which is making sure that the states are prepared. It's a complex process that involves - how do you allocate vaccine? How do you distribute the vaccine? How do you administer the vaccine? How do you ensure equitable access for the vaccine? So CDC and the states do this all the time - for example, if there's a measles outbreak. But this is going to be a complex process to vaccinate potentially all Americans. And it's very appropriate to get the planning down and make sure that states are ready for receipt of vaccine.

MARTIN: So does telling states to be ready for distribution actually mean there's an effective one ready to go in a matter of weeks?

KHAN: Not at all, and I think that's where the concern is. So I am pretty confident that we will have good science to finally make a decision on an efficacious vaccine with a good side-effect profile. But the most important thing we need right now for vaccines is trust. You know, we've had an issue, as you know, with measles vaccine. And specifically for this vaccine, there's already a large group that says they don't want to get vaccinated. So trying to propose that there's going to be a vaccine available before the election actually may undermine people's trust in the process to develop an efficacious and safe vaccine.

MARTIN: Right. As you note, the timing is worth underscoring, that this is expected to happen in early November, right before the election. I mean, can I ask more about what the process looks like? I mean, when we hear the CDC director talking to governors about fast-tracking permits and licenses, that's circumventing the normal process, right? I mean, those permits and licenses are there for a reason. So what is lost by doing that?

KHAN: So I want to differentiate what the process is within the state to make sure that states are ready for vaccine distribution, as opposed to shortcutting or taking shortcuts for the vaccine process itself. So we know during the 2009 influenza outbreak, that it took a very long time to make sure that Americans had vaccine available to them. The vaccine was available in December, and it wasn't before April that we were able to vaccinate 25% of Americans. So I think CDC is appropriately reaching out to states and saying, please, get your plans ready so that when vaccine is available, we can go right away, and we're not left waiting to get vaccine into people's arms.

MARTIN: May I ask you, as a former CDC official, as the dean of the University of Nebraska School of Public Health, I mean, how have you been observing the research around vaccines? Are you optimistic that we could see an effective one in a matter of - I mean, we're really just talking about weeks at this point?

KHAN: So I'm very optimistic about a vaccine and potentially more than one vaccine. I do not believe that this is going to be ready in a matter of weeks. We know the phase three trials. There's currently three phase three trials that are enrolling approximately 30,000 people, and I think it will be October, November before we start to see the results of those studies. And, hopefully, there's a vaccine that's really very, very good and has a good safety profile, and we can start sooner than later. But I think it's super optimistic to think that we're going to be ready in October with the vaccine.

MARTIN: Dr. Ali Khan, he is - he was the director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC. He is currently the dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, which is where he joined us from. Dr. Khan, thank you so much for your perspective. We appreciate it.

KHAN: Thank you very much. Mask on.

MARTIN: Mask on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.