Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine Friday, as officials in Gov. Mike Parson's administration expected, the vaccine may begin to arrive in Missouri as soon as Monday.
Senior officials within the governor's administration, who wished only to speak on background, briefed reporters earlier Friday on what to expect in the coming days once the Pfizer vaccine gets EUA approval from the FDA.
With that federal approval, shipping of the first batch of 51,675 first doses would likely happen Sunday through Tuesday, with the vaccine arriving Monday through Wednesday.
In a separate briefing Friday, prior to the federal approval, state health Director Dr. Randall Williams said if all goes according to plan, "I anticipate we will probably be vaccinating people in Missouri next Thursday," the Associated Press reported.
Pfizer's vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, is a two-dose vaccine — as is Moderna Inc.'s vaccine — which the governor's office anticipates may receive approval next week.
The state may receive more than 63,000 further doses of the Pfizer vaccine and more than 105,000 Moderna vaccine doses the week after next.
The second doses for the first 51,675 people to receive the Pfizer vaccine are being held in reserve to ensure they're available when needed. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine has to be administered to someone at least 21 days after the person is injected with the first dose.
Twenty-one days is the minimum threshold for receiving the second dose of Pfizer's vaccine. The governor's office was still looking for more clarity on how much less effective the vaccine gets the more time goes by before someone receives the second dose.
The Moderna vaccine's second dose has to be administered at least 28 days after the first.
A person cannot receive one dose of the Pfizer vaccine then another of Moderna's. People will receive the vaccine that's available on site.
The state's involvement with keeping track of injections, the delivery of vaccine and getting vaccine to long-term care facilities' staff and residents will vary — with a main focus being on avoiding waste of the initially limited quantities of vaccine.
Once a vial of Pfizer's vaccine is opened — which otherwise has to be kept at ultra-cold storage temperatures of approximately -90 degrees Fahrenheit — the doses inside must be used within six hours. If it comes to a point where someone administering vaccines has a couple doses left but no one in groups prioritized to receive it is left around them, officials advised to find someone nearby willing and able to receive the vaccine.
The first groups of people prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines are health care workers and long-term care facilities' residents and staff — who all together number around 478,000 people, each of whom will need two doses of Pfizer or Moderna's vaccines.
Most long-term care facilities — including Missouri veterans' homes — have enrolled in a federal partnership with Walgreens and CVS to receive vaccine through those retail pharmacy chains, according to the governor's office. Officials expected that partnership would be up and running around Dec. 21.
States decide how much of the vaccines they receive are to be allocated to that partnership, but a long-term care facility partners with a pharmacy chain that has a store within 75 miles of the facility for vaccination. The pharmacy chain will send staff over three visits to each facility to inoculate residents and staff.
What qualifies as a long-term care facility will depend on how a facility is licensed.
Twenty-one other sites around the state have been pre-positioned to receive vaccines, largely based on their cold-storage capabilities, officials said.
The state is not involved with actual delivery of vaccine — that falls on the federal government's logistical partners.
The state will keep track of the administration of vaccines through its ShowMeVax immunization information system, as reported by providers, but it will be on the point-of-care level where it's tracked how long it's been since someone received the first dose of a vaccine and people are sent reminders to get their second dose.
Above all, officials stressed the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines — the accelerated process has not come from shortcuts in integrity, but from developing and producing vaccines while they go through the regulatory approval process, making them immediately available if approval comes.
Missourians continue to be advised to practice precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing over the months ahead.
The general public — every Missourian who wants or needs a vaccine but does not fall into one of the groups with priority status — likely will not have an opportunity to receive a vaccine until at least late spring 2021.
The Associated Press reported Williams said everyone who wants a vaccination could have one by July.
After health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff, the next priority groups are people older than 65; people ages 18-64 with underlying health condition; first responders; and essential employees including in child care, schools and utilities — all together roughly another 2.6 million people.
Missourians with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines are encouraged to visit covidvaccine.mo.gov. The site includes information on vaccines' clinical trials, safety, the approval process, the state's staged approach for distribution, and where and how providers can enroll to be vaccinators against COVID-19.
The site also features this commitment on vaccine cost for Missourians: "We are committed to providing a free or low-cost COVID-19 vaccination experience to all Missourians, including those without insurance. While the maximum administration fee is still being determined at the federal level, we anticipate residents could be expected to pay between $0 and $25 to be vaccinated. No resident can be denied a vaccine based on their ability to pay as long as they qualify at that time under the state's phased approach."
The hope is the vaccines will begin to reduce the strain the pandemic is placing on health care systems — though how quickly that happens depends on the supply received, the willingness of the public to get vaccinated and how widespread COVID-19 is.