BISMARCK — North Dakota has turned in the first draft of its COVID-19 vaccination plan to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 95-page document answers basic questions about how the state plans to distribute a potential vaccine and who might be at the front of the line to receive it.

The plan, drafted by state health officials, says a vaccine could become available as soon as this winter, but it makes no hard assumptions about the timeline. Dozens of pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to find an effective vaccine, but none have been approved yet by the federal government. North Dakota submitted its plan to the CDC on Friday, Oct. 16.

The state's goal is to vaccinate 70% of the population, while prioritizing the first doses for vulnerable residents, according to the plan. Federal health officials have not officially decided which groups will get priority, but the state expects they will be nursing home and long-term care residents and staff, older residents and those with underlying health conditions, health care workers and people of color.

The plan assumes that there won't immediately be enough doses for every resident who wants one, but a second phase of the immunization push will make the inoculation available to all willing takers. The document also mentions that, at least at first, there won't likely be an available vaccine for children or pregnant women.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Transporting the vaccine is anticipated to be tricky given that it will likely need to be frozen or kept at an "ultra-cold" temperature. Immunization program manager Molly Howell confirmed to Forum News Service that North Dakota has bought four ultra-cold freezers and nine transport coolers to allow for the transportation of the vaccine to rural communities.

The document identifies a long list of potential vaccine providers, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, long-term care facilities and jails. The plan also makes brief mention of mass vaccination events that mirror large COVID-19 testing events for when the vaccine becomes more plentiful.

The plan outlines several potential issues in vaccine distribution, including residents' unwillingness to take it. Only about half of Americans say they would probably or definitely get vaccinated for COVID-19 if an inoculation became available today, according to a Pew Research survey from last month. The document also says running a full immunization effort will be difficult with the less than $400,000 the state has received to operate the program.

The document will be updated as more information about a vaccine comes out.