A plan developed in the 1990s to combat the threat of bioterrorism has been modified to prepare local health care providers to administer the first COVID-19 immunizations.

Beloit Health System EMS Coordinator Jodi Moyer and Nursing Officer Sharon Cox said the health system is well positioned to receive a 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, or 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 before it made modifications and sent the plan 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 will rely on infrastructure already in place to give flu shots and continue COVID-19 testing alongside any vaccine that becomes available. Vaccinations could be given at the Beloit Memorial Hospital campus or at alternate care sites similar to COVID-19 testing locations 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.”

Mercyhealth is in the process of rolling out a plan to administer vaccines once they are available, spokeswoman Trish Reed said. She said it was too early to disclose details.

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville is also in the planning stages for vaccine administration and will offer vaccines when they are available, spokeswoman Erica Mathis said.

The Rock County Public Health Department has enrolled with the state so it can administer the vaccine “if absolutely necessary,” department spokeswoman Jessica Turner told The Gazette in an email.

Administering the vaccine is not the health department’s primary plan, Turner said. Rather, its role is to ensure everyone in the community has access to the vaccine when it is available.

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,” she said.

The department is following guidance from the state Department of Health Services and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Turner said.

Historically, the health department has provided some vaccines for uninsured or underinsured people. Residents are typically encouraged to contact health providers to get vaccinated for other vaccine-preventable diseases.

On Tuesday, state officials shed more light on how a COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed.

Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development by pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer. Both have been at least 90% effective in trials, and both require two shots within a 21- to 28-day period, said Stephanie Schauer, manager for the state Division of Public Health Immunization Program.

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

Schauer said the first phase of vaccine distribution could start 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 doses sent to Wisconsin could number in the hundreds of thousands.

A vaccine could be available to the wider public by mid-2021 and be administered through health systems, state vaccination sites and pharmacies, Schauer said.

The state will rely on its immunization registry that is used to distribute more than $50 million worth of vaccines annually, Schauer said.

“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,” she 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.”

Although the vaccine developments and planning are promising, Department of Health Services officials urge the public to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing and proper hand hygiene.

Adams Publishing Group reporter Ashley McCallum contributed to this story.