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WKYT Investigates | Vaccination challenges

Hospitals have prepared to deal with challenges, as they are among the first to receive vaccines.
Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 2:03 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The first wave of COVID-19 vaccines is now in Kentucky.

Close to 40,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived this week.

And there is more to come, including more than a hundred thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine expected soon.

With more doses come questions about storing and securing those vials, but hospitals and other agencies have been working for weeks to get ready as the vaccine rollout ramps up.

[WKYT Fact Check | Answers to common questions about the new COVID-19 vaccine]

“It will make a huge difference to have an effective vaccine,” said Dr. Dan Goulson, Chief Medical Officer for CHI Saint Joseph Health.

But the vaccine - especially Pfizer’s - does come with challenges.

Storage

The two-milliliter vials contain five doses each (although recent reports show that more doses have been found inside vials) but must be stored in ultra-cold temperatures: -70 degrees Celsius, which is roughly -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It’s just been a very complex and challenging scenario because there’s so much riding on this, number one, and number two, we’re trying to be prepared to move as quickly as we can,” Dr. Goulson told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer.

CHI Saint Joseph Health bought a new 28 cubic foot ultra-cold freezer that will allow the hospital to hold at least 500 vials (2,500 doses) of the Pfizer vaccine, Dr. Goulson said.

They are using Lexington as a storage hub. From there they can transport vaccine to their other hospitals in the region for them to distribute, well within the five-day shelf life outside of ultra-cold storage.

At UK Hospital, workers took part in a readiness test earlier this month - a full run-through of the process - before the real thing arrived this week.

“Thinking about how important and how valuable this vaccine is, you wouldn’t want to have something happen where we lost vaccine or wasn’t able to use it all,” said Dr. Mark Newman, the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at the University of Kentucky. “So I think the more we prepare and the more we work, the better it is for us.”

Officials at UK say they have ultra-cold freezers to store at least 20,000 vials (100,000 doses).

“This will be a trickle before it becomes a larger flow of vaccines,” said Philip Almeter, Chief Pharmacist for UK HealthCare. “So that capacity will not be needed initially, but we have it.”

Baptist Health Lexington has ultra-cold storage for 600 vials (3,000 doses), a spokesperson said.

All three hospitals have been planning out which employees can get the vaccine and when.

“We prioritized our employees based off of their risk with the jobs that they have,” Dee Beckman, Executive Director of Outcomes for Baptist Health Lexington, told WKYT. “So, for example, the frontline staff working in the COVID units are the top tier employees, and then again the rest of our frontline staff are close behind.”

Transportation

Last week the UPS WorldPort in Louisville shipped out thousands of kits with syringes and other items before they began shipments of the actual vaccine.

The packages are marked “critical,” and UPS is tracking all vaccine shipments using G.P.S. from the company’s new health care command center.

“The preparation for this has been intense,” said Jim Mayer, a UPS spokesperson. “We have been at this for months planning, putting the right people, the right technology in place.”

UPS is reportedly responsible for delivering 50 percent of the Pfizer vaccine, primarily for the eastern half of the country.

UPS has also been shipping 40 pounds of dry ice to sites that do not have super cold freezers so they can re-ice their shipment until they can be administered. UPS is making more than 24,000 pounds of its own dry ice each day, Mayer said.

Security and other logistics

Hospital officials say they have precautions in place and have taken steps to protect the vaccine, just like so many other things being kept in the hospitals and their pharmacies.

For state-level security, the Department for Public Health is coordinating with Kentucky State Police. (KSP would not speak with WKYT about their efforts, instead referring a reporter back to KDPH.)

The state’s vaccination plan spells out that local law enforcement agencies will work with local health departments for their security efforts (including traffic control and crowd control) as needed. A Lexington Police spokesperson says they have had officers stationed at various testing sites as requested, but they have not talked yet with the health department about vaccine distribution.

The Kentucky National Guard is listed in the plan as a support agency that can help with logistics and transportation. But a National Guard spokesperson says that so far they have not been asked for support, so they are not involved in the distribution.

More information

You can find more information about the vaccine here on the state’s website.

Get answers to some frequently asked questions about the vaccine - including the phases in which it will be distributed - here via a WKYT Fact Check.

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