By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia is among five locations selected by federal health officials to plan for the distribution of the first batches of COVID-19 vaccine when it’s cleared, and it could happen before the election. States are also being told to have vaccine distribution sites ready by Nov. 1.

In addition to Philadelphia, the vaccine pilot sites are California, Florida, North Dakota and Minnesota. A vaccine potentially available days before the election has many wondering if this is being driven by politics instead of science.

Philadelphia has been selected by the CDC as one of five pilot sites to plan for early distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. Documents obtained by Eyewitness News say hundreds of millions of doses could be available by Nov. 1.

“I think that’s appropriate for us to develop those plans. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to disseminate a vaccine,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. “The deeper question is, will there be vaccine that’s approved that we are confident is safe?”

The Philadelphia health commissioner said he is concerned about the political influence of fast-tracking a vaccine. He would like to see completed Phase 3 testing before one is cleared for the general population.

“It doesn’t mean, though, that there might be some populations for whom a vaccine is appropriate, even if we’re before the Phase 3 trials, people who are extraordinarily high risk,” Farley said.

The top vaccine makers, just entering Phase 3 trials, had indicated results by early next year, but the FDA could act on limited preliminary data and issue an emergency authorization.

“It has nothing to do with elections,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “This has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving peoples’ lives. Whether it’s Oct. 15, whether it’s Nov. 1, whether it’s Nov 15, it’s all about saving lives.”

The planning documents indicate the first vaccine, given in two doses, will go to essential workers and people in high-risk groups, including the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions, minorities and college students.

“We all want a vaccine. A vaccine is going to be critically important,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Levine, who’s also involved with distribution plans, also expressed some concern about fast-tracking a vaccine.

“We feel better if a vaccine has completed its Stage 3 trials,” Levine said.

The United States has committed more than $10 billion dollars to develop new coronavirus vaccines but hasn’t allocated money specifically for distributing and administering vaccines.

Farley says Philadelphia has extensive experience with this, probably why it was chosen to be a pilot location.

Stephanie Stahl