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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Hamilton County Readying For Potential COVID-19 Vaccines

coronavirus vaccine
Hans Pennink
A nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y.

Several agencies in Hamilton County are working together to acquire, store and distribute COVID-19 vaccines once they are available.

Those include the Health Collaborative, the Hamilton County Health Department and the county's emergency management agency.

So far there's not a COVID vaccine. But several drug manufactures are testing them now.  When released, each may have different storage criteria.

Dr. Stephen Feagins, who's the medical director at the county health department, said the vaccine being tested by Pfizer, for example, would have to be stored at -80 degrees Celsius.

"Our biggest goal is that, all vaccines including these, have about a six-hour life at room temperature," Feagins said. "We do not want to waste one precious dose of vaccine, and so that's why a lot of this preparation is necessary now, so we know exactly what we are doing."

The county emergency management agency recently rented a facility to store personal protective equipment (PPE), and that location, with modifications for refrigeration or freezer space, could also be used to store COVID vaccines.

"Do we need to go ahead and either lease that space or install that space in our own area, and then from that, what is needed to support that?" said county EMA Director Nick Crossley. "We get all the way down to the back-up power, distribution, security, all those kinds of things to make sure that, anything that we can think of now, to be prepared as possible for that vaccine distribution, that we're ready to go the minute that we get it."

Crossley said the goal is to have a final plan in place by Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, since last Wednesday there have been 542 new positive COVID-19 cases in the county, 25 additional hospitalizations and 14 more deaths.

On Wednesday, the reproductive number for the virus in Hamilton County was 0.92. That compares to 0.94 last week. Officials want that number below 1, and closer to zero, which indicates the virus is not spreading in the community.

"Over the last two weeks you see some fluctuations, a little bit up and a little bit down," Feagins said. "It's hard to assign cause and effect to those numbers. Certainly, increased college, some increased spread through young adults can account for that. But it's as likely as anything the typical variation around a new average."

Feagins also joined other health professionals who encouraging people to get a flu shot.

"Don't take chances of flu and COVID simultaneously, and we could have an overwhelming scenario," Feagins said. "And we, in all our health systems and public health, have been looking at how we can distinguish by laboratory analysis in the emergency department flu and COVID-19 as quickly as we can."

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.