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Editorial: Schedule another practice for mass vaccination clinic

The Rowan County Health Department and Emergency Services should start dusting off plans for a mass vaccination exercise, which it tested in November, and examine ways to utilize it or change it for COVID-19.

On Nov. 19, the Health Department held a mass vaccination exercise in which people drove through stations to simulate how a real-world mass vaccination would be conducted. The goal, county officials said, was the test how well West End Plaza would work for such an event and the provide hands-on training.

Once a vaccine is developed for COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of the coronavirus that’s spreading across the world), such an exercise has obvious applications. There will be tens of thousands of people in the community and a majority of Americans interested in receiving a vaccine. Unless planning starts now for what a exercise looks like, we may see a repeat of the shortages and relatively poor initial response the country has seen to COVID-19.

People could receive vaccinations at their doctors’ offices and at urgent care facilities, but a clinic of the size for which West End Plaza allows will have an application, too. If testing capacity ever reaches the scale it needs to be to ensure tests for everyone, such an exercise could be useful now.

Realists will point out that a vaccination is somewhere between months and a year away. After that, there’s an unknown period before a vaccination is produced at a scale to begin widespread public vaccination. And there’s an even longer period before people in Salisbury and Rowan County will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in a manner similar to the flu or in a massive drive-thru clinic.

The focus now is also on “flattening the curve” — something Rowan County appears to be doing at the moment. The number of active cases (total positives minus recoveries and deaths) is still increasing, but recoveries lately have come at a more rapid pace. The number of people hospitalized has not spiked significantly either.

Even if implementation is years away, however, there’s value to practicing now for an exercise that will surely draw huge interest. And with what we know about the coming interest in a vaccine, the Rowan County Health Department and Emergency Services officials may decide during planning that it’s better to organize multiple sites around the county — similar to the way polling places work.

It was wise to hold the vaccination clinic’s practice run last year. It’s time to think about what the next practice exercise looks like.

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