New Mexico has been selected by Pfizer Inc. to be one of four states in the nation to receive a pilot delivery trial for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine the company has said is more than 90 percent effective in preventing the disease.
New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee and Rhode Island were picked by the drug giant to test distribution of the new vaccine — which still must be approved by the federal government — because the states each have a combination of urban and rural areas, which can pose massive logistical problems in transporting it. The vaccine has to be shipped and stored at close to minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other U.S. states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective COVID-19 vaccine programs,” Angela Hwang, president of Pfizer Bio Group and Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group, said in a statement.
According to the company, the four states won’t receive vaccine doses before other states as a result of the pilot program.
The federal government will pay Pfizer $1.95 billion for the first 100 million doses of the vaccine and have the option to acquire another 500 million doses, according to the company.
Another company, Moderna Inc., has said its trial vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
Pfizer said it announced the pilot program to help support states’ plans to distribute the vaccine and will adapt findings from the trial to use in other states.
In addition to the rural and urban nature of the four states selected, they were also selected because of the size of the states, the diversity of populations and the “immunization structure,” according to Pfizer.
Hwang said the pilot program is advancing in collaboration with federal and state officials and will help the company prepare for broader distribution “in the near future.”
State Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, who sits on the interim legislative Health and Human Services Committee, has said rolling out the vaccine in New Mexico likely will be a “logistical nightmare” because it is so vast and largely rural.
State officials submitted a 60-page vaccine distribution plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October that included no target date for when a vaccine might be available to the general public.
Distribution will at first be limited to critical health care workers, hopefully as soon as December, state health officials have said.
Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said in an email the state doesn’t have a timeline for vaccination distribution because it hasn’t yet been approved by the federal government.
The agreement with Pfizer to participate in the pilot program also doesn’t involve an actual vaccine, according to the Governor’s Office. But it will help refine the state’s distribution plans.
“The lessons learned from this pilot program should help New Mexico, other states, tribal partners, and the federal government in administering the vaccine effectively and efficiently to diverse populations and communities,” Nerzig said in an email.
State officials are surveying health care providers to determine their capacity for administering vaccines and expect to ship them in “temporary thermal shippers” to keep them at the correct, ultra-cold temperature.
The state also has found a number of facilities in different regions capable of storing the vaccine for a longer period of time. But the administration is “very concerned about costs,” Nerzig said.
New Mexico and other states “will need significantly more resources to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to their diverse populations,” he continued. “It’s why New Mexico supports the request of the national associations of health officials and immunization managers for $8.4 billion to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution.”