BELOIT — A plan developed in the 1990s to combat the threat of bioterrorism has been modified to position health care providers ahead of administering the first COVID-19 immunizations.

Beloit Health System EMS Coordinator Jodi Moyer and Nursing Officer Sharon Cox said the health system is well-positioned in advance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are ready for a vaccine whenever it comes,” Cox said. “We are dedicated to the community and we’ve worked hard to keep them safe.”

Moyer said the Point of Dispensing (POD) vaccine administration plan was tweaked to add social distancing safety precautions for staff and patients. The health system received a template plan from the State of Wisconsin before BHS made modifications before sending the plan along to the Rock County Public Health Department.

“Honestly it was a very simple way to update our guidelines,” Moyer said. “The difference is we would have social distancing components for people as they wait to receive the vaccine.”

Cox said the health system would rely heavily on infrastructure already in place to give flu shots and continue COVID-19 testing alongside any vaccine that becomes available. Vaccinations could take place at the Beloit Memorial Hospital campus or at alternate care sites similar to COVID-19 testing locations in operation in Rock County and across the state.

“This is about having absolute organization of something that can be really chaotic,” Cox said. “We are ready and will adapt as the situation evolves.”

It’s too early to disclose details, Reed said.

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville will administer vaccines once available and is also in the planning stage for vaccine administration, said Erica Mathis, spokeswoman for SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital.

The Rock County Public Health Department has enrolled with the state to be able to administer the vaccine “if absolutely necessary,” said Rock County Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Turner, in an email.

Administering vaccine is not the health department’s primary plan, Turner said.

The health department’s role is to assure everyone in the community has access to the vaccine when available, Turner said.

Health department officials are working with federal, state and local partners to put plans in place. Officials are making sure appropriate providers are registering with the state and making adequate plans, Turner said.

“There are still some unknowns that make planning difficult, but we are putting together the best plans that we can with the available information,” Turner said.

The county’s health department is using guidance from the state Department of Health Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its county-wide planning, Turner said.

Historically, the health department provides some kinds of vaccine for uninsured or underinsured individuals. Residents are typically encouraged to contact health providers to get vaccinated for other vaccine-preventable diseases.

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) officials shed more light on how a COVID-19 vaccine would be distributed across the state.

Currently there are two COVID-19 vaccines in development by pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer that have both received 90% or greater success rates, of which the possible vaccines require two shots within a 21-to-28 day timeframe, according to Wisconsin DHS Division of Public Health Immunization Program Manager Stephanie Schauer.

Both companies must apply for emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before mass production can begin, and it could be months until even the first phase of vaccinations are administered to frontline health care workers, first responders and long-term care home residents.

Schauer the first phase of vaccine deployment could come by the end of the year, but that is only if a vaccine receives FDA approval.

“The amount is going to be limited in scope but we will see that build over time,” Schauer said, noting that the first round of vaccines sent to Wisconsin could number in the hundreds of thousands.

A vaccine could be made available to the wider public by mid-2021 and be administered through health systems, state vaccination sites and through pharmacies, Schauer said. The state would rely on its immunization registry that is used to distribute over $50 million of vaccines annually, Schauer added.

“An order would be placed in the registry, sent on to the CDC and the number of doses would be shipped directly to the vaccinator,” Schauer said. “It would not involve the state but the end user as we typically do day-in-and-day-out. It’s building on an infrastructure that has really been tried and tested.”

Officials with DHS said that although the vaccine developments and planning were promising, they urged the public to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and proper hand hygiene.

Additional reporting provided by Adams Publishing Group Reporter Ashley McCallum