ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Lehigh Valley health officials say they'll be ready when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved by the FDA.

Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke's University Health Network have aggressive influenza vaccination programs that they say can be expanded to accommodate demand in three phases, starting with front line and some essential workers.

"This would be health care workers, first line responders, paramedics, medics fire and police as well as people, medical staff," said Dr. Alex Benjamin, LVHN Chief Infection Control Officer.

Phase one would also include those at highest risk. Phase two would target remaining essential workers and phase three the general public.

"I think it's also important to point out that we do not believe at this time the vaccine will become mandatory," said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke's Chief Infectious Disease Specialist.

Currently, healthcare workers at both networks are required to have a flu shot. But officials at St. Luke's and LVHN say right now, there are no plans to require health care workers to have the COVID-19 vaccination.

While health networks are stockpiling materials, officials say they can't finalize plans until they know what type of vaccine they'll be administering.

"Prefilled which is what we use at the drive-through and take a lot less time to prepare because you just got a needle on right? If you got to draw 10 doses up from a vial you need additional supplies," said Terry Burger, LVHN Administrator for Infection Control and Prevention.

There's also the question of whether the vaccine will require single or double dosage.

Health officials anticipate the vaccine will have 50 percent efficacy, but say it's too early to predict how much of the population will need to be vaccinated to make an impact.

They say it's also unknown how much of the population will get vaccinated. Which leads to the final hurdle, communication.

Local networks say they're working on education campaigns that will help get the word out about the vaccine, who should get it, when and where, once a plan is in place.

The CDC has put health networks across the country on standby, saying to be prepared to administer 10 million vaccines by the end of October and 30 million by the end of November.

Local health officials say the FDA approval process may delay that timeline.

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