What Do State Plans Reveal About Their Readiness to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? 

Healthcare Insurance

With hopes that a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines will be proven safe and effective soon, state and local public health authorities will play a critical role in ensuring the efficient distribution and administration of the vaccine.

To assess the readiness of these local governments to take on these responsibilities, KFF reviewed the preliminary vaccine distribution plans submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month by the states and the District of Columbia. These initial plans will be revised based on additional information and federal guidance.

The plans reveal that states are in varying stages of preparations, with some working on the issues for several months and others beginning more recently. Key findings include:

  • Defining exactly who will get the vaccine first is a critical task for states. The preliminary plans reveal that less than half of state plans contain an estimate for the number of people considered high priority to receive the vaccine. In every state, these high-priority groups include health care workers, essential workers, older residents and others with health conditions that put them at high risk if they were to contract COVID-19. States will need to know which vaccine or vaccines they are dealing with to finalize these plans.
  • All states will need to expand the number of providers and locations where people can get the vaccine, but most states are just beginning this process.
  • While Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, fewer than half of state plans include any details about their communication plans to reach racial and ethnic minority populations in their states with vaccination information.

“Our review shows that states are all over the map in terms of their readiness to handle vaccine distribution and even less prepared to mount the large-scale outreach efforts required to address vaccine hesitancy,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said. “There is time to provide the resources and guidance they need, but not a lot of time.”

Looking ahead, President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign and transition team have planned for a more prominent role for the federal government. This could result in more detailed federal guidance and a stronger federal hand in vaccine distribution, planning and implementation in the coming months, even as state and local jurisdictions will remain responsible for much of this effort.

A separate new KFF brief examines how various government programs and private insurers cover and pay for vaccines now, including specific policies for COVID-19 vaccines.

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