Limited vaccinations for the coronavirus may begin next month for medical professionals, although they won't likely not occur for the general public until next year, according to Robin Iszler, unit administrator for the Central Valley Health District.

When the mass vaccinations do get underway, the protocols and processes used will trace back to the H1N1 flu, better known as the swine flu, from 2009, she said.

"We've practiced for mass vaccinations ever since," Iszler said.

The swine flu vaccine became available in October 2009. At the time, Stutsman County had the highest incidence of swine flu in North Dakota with 85 cases per 10,000. Currently, Stutsman County has 259 active cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents.

The swine flu was declared a pandemic in June 2009 and the vaccine became available in October, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention archives. In North Dakota, there were four flu deaths during the 2009-2010 flu season with two attributed to the swine flu.

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The first vaccinations for the coronavirus will be administered to critical health care professionals just as it was in 2009 with the swine flu vaccine, according to Iszler. The second batch of swine flu vaccine went to pregnant women and children aged 6 months to 18 years, according to Jamestown Sun archives.

"The second-tier of vaccinations (for the coronavirus) will probably be for long-term care," Iszler said.

Current vaccine information posted to the website of the CDC says it is unclear at this time as to whether the coronavirus vaccine will be available for pregnant women and children at least initially.

There are other differences between the swine flu and coronavirus vaccines, Iszler said.

"The vaccines might come from two or more manufacturers," she said, referring to the anticipated delivery of vaccines. "The second dose has to come from the same manufacturer as the first."

At least some of the vaccines have to be transported and stored under extremely cold conditions.

"Once it is not frozen it would have to be dispensed quickly," Iszler said. "We want to organize groups by priority and provide vaccinations as efficiently as possible."

Which is what Central Valley and other health districts have been practicing since the swine flu.

"We used high schools and churches and places like that," Iszler said. "Anyplace where we could provide vaccinations for a lot of people in a short time."

Iszler expects those mass vaccine events to begin "sometime in 2021" based on the availability of the vaccine.

"We anticipate the vaccine is safe," she said. "We do expect some people will have side effects."

A person who was exposed to the virus prior to the vaccination could also become ill with COVID-19, according to the CDC website.

And it will probably be advisable for people to wear masks and social distance for a while after vaccinations start, Iszler said.

"This is new and those things won't go away right away," she said.