GAITHERSBURG — Maryland is ready to begin the distribution of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus when one becomes available, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.
Hogan made the comments while speaking to reporters and others following a tour of two labs at Novavax, a relatively unknown small Maryland company that is competing with other larger companies to quickly develop a safe and effective vaccine.
“In anticipation of a vaccine, I’m pleased to announce that advanced planning is currently underway at the Maryland Department of Health for the ordering, acquiring, distributing and administering a vaccine just as soon as it becomes available,” said Hogan.
Hogan’s announcement came during a tour of the state which included stops in Frederick and Baltimore. While in western Maryland, Hogan and state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon announced that local school systems could begin fall sports as soon as Oct. 7. Each school system would have the ability to decide for themselves if they wish to participate in fall sports.
Hogan provided few details of the distribution plan other than to say highest risk patients along with first responders, health care workers and teachers would likely be the first to be offered vaccinations.
“Following CDC guidelines, this plan will immediately make the vaccine available to Marylanders who are most at risk,” said Hogan.
A legislative panel, echoing federal health experts, cautioned last week that widespread availability of a vaccine could take as long as eight months following federal emergency authorization.
The governor’s pronouncement Thursday comes a week after state health department officials briefed a legislative panel on the development of a distribution plan.
Acting state Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan told lawmakers last week that the distribution of any vaccine will likely be slow following any emergency use authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration. First shipments to Maryland and other states would be in “limited numbers.”
“We know that we’re not going to get, at least initially, sufficient quantity to be able to deploy it out to our entire high-risk population immediately, but it will take some time to be able to get the vaccine out and distribute it to the high-risk populations,” Chan told the Joint COVID-19 Workgroup.
Final guidelines on who will receive the vaccine first is still under consideration at the federal level, according to Chan.
A Hogan spokeswoman did not respond to requests for additional details related to the governor’s announcement.
The department will also likely lean on experience gained from the 2009 flu pandemic, she said.
But the department will have to also work on the logistics of transporting and distributing a vaccine that could possibly be unstable at less than ultra cold temperatures. Some vaccines under development must be stored at minus 70 degrees celsius — three times colder than a standard home freezer.
Officials at Novavax said their vaccine, if approved, would be stable at room temperature.
Novavax, a Maryland-based company, received a $1.6 billion grant from the federal government as part of Operation Warp Speed to develop coronavirus vaccines. The company, which began the year with slightly more than 100 employees, has yet to successfully bring a vaccine to market and is going toe-to-toe with larger more established international companies such as AstraZeneca — who recently paused part of its phase three trials — and Moderna.
“I think they are further along and doing a much better job than any of the other companies that are focused on vaccines and cures,” said Hogan.
“The Novavax vaccine that’s being developed is one of the most promising in the country if not the world,” said Hogan.
A number of those companies are in phase three trials currently and ahead of Novavax.
Early published results, however, appear to show positive results for Novavax’s efforts. The company is entering efficacy trials and plans to begin phase three trials soon, according to Stan Erck, president and CEO of Novavax.
The company is preparing to produce up to 100 million doses — enough to initially vaccinate 50 million people with the required two-vaccination regimen.