COVID-19 FAQs: How will Sanford Health deliver vaccines?

Months of prep for COVID-19 vaccine include ultracold freezers, rural couriers

A Sanford Health minivan courier carries mail and vaccines down a rural road in winter.

COVID-19 vaccines are now headed this way.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 13 accepted the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, clearing the way for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine to be administered in the U.S.

A Moderna vaccine, similar to Pfizer’s, has also been approved following the same review process.

Related: How will I know it’s my turn for vaccine?

The FDA has enacted emergency use authorization (EUA) to facilitate the availability of a vaccine during the pandemic. Under an EUA, the FDA may allow the use of a vaccine when certain criteria have been met and approved.

In this case, that approval marked the beginning of the multiple-layer progression to safely and efficiently deliver doses to the public.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar estimated in November that the federal government expects to send out a total of 40 million doses before the end of the year.

Sanford ready for vaccines

Safe and efficient distribution plans are already in place at Sanford Health. Preparations for routing and delivering a COVID-19 vaccine have been ongoing for months.

The vaccines are allocated by state. A priority list is in place based on CDC guidelines and in coordination with each state’s department of health. Front-line health care works are the first on that list, along with residents of long-term care facilities.

Given that doses will arrive in smaller quantities initially, planning and scheduling the vaccination process is crucial.

“We’ll need to determine how far that first delivery will get us into our prioritization list,” said Andrea Polkinghorn, Sanford Health immunization strategy leader.

“Will it just be ICU, emergency departments and our COVID-19 unit right away? Or can we get into inpatient nursing? We will be receiving weekly shipments so hopefully we should be able to get through all of those departments of front-line health care workers relatively quickly.”

Recently preparations included the purchase of freezers that will enable safe transfer and storage of the anticipated first wave of vaccinations set to arrive in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Vaccine distribution challenges

The vaccines cannot cross state lines once delivered. Coupled with the temperature-sensitive nature of the vaccines, there are several factors involved in administering doses quickly and correctly.

“The planning for the storage and the distribution of those vaccines to our sites where the vaccines will be administered have been a focus of ours for quite a while by a large group of people,” said Jesse Breidenbach, Sanford Health’s senior executive director of pharmacy.

The temperature of the vaccine will be monitored throughout the supply-chain process. Staffing considerations are also in place to accommodate administering the doses.

Breidenbach emphasized the importance of getting the vaccine when it becomes available. The Pfizer two-stage doses have been 95% effective in testing done to date.

Continue to mask, practice social distancing

Breidenbach also stressed the need to continue to heed present masking, social distancing and hand-washing guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

Not only do vaccines protect the person who gets vaccinated, Breidenbach said, but they also help keep diseases from spreading to others. A COVID-19 vaccination will likely help protect you by creating a fairly rapid antibody response and, hopefully, a long-lasting immune system “memory.”

“This would be the ideal scenario,” Breidenbach said. “It would mean the vaccine is delivering short-term protection quickly as well as long-term protection that prevents reinfection without having to experience severe sickness.”

Once the vaccines are available, the best way to stop this virus is to generate SARS-CoV-2 specific immunity. The safest way to do that is through vaccination.

“I feel like we’re at a point where we’re getting ready to start turning the corner with the fight against the COVID pandemic,” Breidenbach said. “It’s refreshing to see because it’s been a long year.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions, Immunizations, News, Rural Health

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