The first 60,000 doses of a new coronavirus vaccine could arrive in Washington by mid-December, and Washington State University is set to play an integral role in distributing it locally.

That would increase to about 200,000 doses by the end of the month, the state Department of Health announced Thursday, assuming the vaccine receives emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The vaccine, manufactured by Pfizer, had a reported effective rate of about 95 percent in recent trials involving 42,000 people. It received emergency approval from the United Kingdom earlier this week, with similar approval pending in the U.S.

News of the vaccine came as Washington experienced its single deadliest day of the pandemic, with 50 new fatalities reported Thursday. The Department of Health has recorded 2,900 COVID-related fatalities since the pandemic began.

Two additional fatalities were reported regionally, including a Nez Perce County man in his 90s and an Asotin County man between the ages of 70 and 90.

Idaho surpassed 1,000 COVID-related deaths Thursday, with 23 new fatalities being reported for a total of 1,014.

In Washington, the Department of Health said more than 100 providers have already applied to distribute the new vaccine. That includes clinics, hospitals and pharmacies.

The vaccine, which is administered in two doses, has to be stored at minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, said Chris Skidmore, interim director of the Whitman County Public Health Department. That’s substantially colder than most commercial coolers. As a result, hospitals and pharmacies around the country have been scrambling to purchase expensive, ultra-cold freezer units.

WSU, however, already has some ultra-cold storage capacity. Skidmore said the university agreed to make four freezers available, enough space to securely store about 60,000 doses of the vaccine.

When local providers enroll with the state to administer the vaccine, he said, they list WSU as their storage facility.

“They’ll receive an allocation of the vaccine, which will be sent to WSU and stored there,” Skidmore said. The providers will then go to WSU periodically, pick up a portion of their allocation and take it back to their facility in smaller containers filled with dry ice.

“The vaccine has about a 10-day use period after it’s pulled from ultra-cold storage,” he said. 

The vaccine gets diluted and warmed up before being administered, he said, so it won’t be minus 80 degrees when it’s injected.

Pfizer announced Thursday that it expects to ship about 50 million doses of the vaccine by the end of December. Next year, it expects to ship about 1.3 billion doses worldwide.

A second vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, is also awaiting emergency approval from the FDA. The company said its first shipments could begin before Christmas. That vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage capabilities.

Washington’s coronavirus vaccine plan calls for a phased rollout of any vaccines. Health care workers and first responders who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 would be first in line, followed by vulnerable populations such as seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Child care workers and K-12 teachers and staff would be next, along with prison inmates and staff, and eventually the general public.

Public education regarding the availability and safety of the vaccine will be an important part of the rollout, Skidmore said. He’s hoping local community leaders will agree to get the vaccine publicly, to encourage public buy-in.

“There’s a lot of disinformation out there about vaccines, so battling that will be tough,” he said.

Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee will meet today to review the status of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as to discuss prioritization for the initial doses. Anyone interested in listening in on the meeting can find access information at coronavirus.idaho.gov, by clicking on the “vaccine” link at the top.

In addition to the two new fatalities, north central Idaho and southeastern Washington reported 156 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

That includes 55 cases in Nez Perce County, 38 in Latah County, 10 in Lewis County, nine in Idaho County, seven in Clearwater County, 12 in Asotin County, two in Garfield County and 23 in Whitman County.

A total of 9,134 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 have now been reported across the eight-county region since the pandemic began, including 92 fatalities. That’s about 5 percent of the regional population.

In other coronavirus-related news, the Upriver Youth Leadership Council announced that face masks and social distancing are now required at its Teen Center, in an effort to keep the facility open.

The council is asking parents to talk with their kids about the requirement. Children who are unwilling or unable to wear masks will need to wait until the requirement is lifted before visiting the center.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208)-791-9168.