Hospitals Await First Shipments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine
Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, wears a protective mask during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Samuel Corum/The New York Times/Bloomberg)

Hospitals Await First Shipments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine

Hospitals are going into overdrive in the final hours before they receive the first U.S. shipments of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, ensuring they are ready for the final payoff from months of planning.

“It’s very exciting,” Fran Hixson, director of clinical quality at Chesterfield, Missouri-based Mercy Health, said in an interview Sunday. “We’ve learned along the way how we can protect ourselves from the virus, and adding a vaccine to our toolbox is a very exciting time for us to be moving this ahead.”

Shipments started leaving Pfizer’s Michigan plant early Sunday morning, less than two days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use. They are scheduled to arrive at 145 sites on Monday, 425 on Tuesday and the final 66 on Wednesday.

Hospitals Await First Shipments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine

These 2.9 million shots will end up in the arms of health-care workers and nursing home residents. The vaccine’s arrival comes amid a nationwide surge, with about 200,000 cases being reported every day this month, hospitalizations setting records and total deaths nearing 300,000.

Jesse Breidenbach, senior executive director of pharmacy at Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health, exchanged celebratory text messages with colleagues when the news of the FDA’s approval broke Friday. That night, Sanford received an email from Pfizer that its order was being prepared. Five of Sanford’s 46 hospitals in the Upper Midwest will receive shipments in the coming week.

Shipments Begin

Pfizer is sending its vaccine in specially made containers packed with dry ice to keep the formula at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Sanford attended webinars that Pfizer hosted earlier in the week to review details for moving the vials into ultra-cold freezers, Breidenbach said -- training that he can’t remember receiving for other vaccines. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will attend the delivery at Sanford’s hospital in Bismark to ensure workers transfer the vials correctly.

Sanford is waiting for all the tracking information to get a more solid idea of when to expect its first doses, whether Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. FedEx Corp. shared details for shipments to Sanford’s Bismark and Fargo facilities Sunday afternoon, saying to expect delivery by Monday afternoon. Once the shots arrive, Sanford will start emailing eligible employees telling them they can start scheduling appointments.

“We want to start as soon as possible, but we don’t want to complicate things by having people start before we can actually give the vaccine,” Breidenbach said in an interview Sunday.

Final Instructions

Mercy Health had been anxiously awaiting information from the FDA and the CDC’s immunization advisory committee detailing specific guidelines for the vaccine, Hixson said. These documents answered questions about who should receive the vaccine, including people who already had Covid-19.

The details will help hospitals perfect their plans before vaccinations begin. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at New Hyde Park, New York-based Northwell Health, has been working all weekend to complete training materials for those workers giving the shots.

Northwell plans to start giving shots Monday or Tuesday, depending on when the vaccine arrives, Jarrett said in an interview Sunday. The system has 23 hospitals in the New York City area.

“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” Jarrett said. “Therefore whether we deliver the first vaccine the day they arrive, depending on when they arrive, or next day I think is less critical than making sure people are giving it in a safe fashion.”

Starting Small

Mercy could start vaccinating a limited number of workers as soon as Monday, Hixson said. The health system wants to start small so it can identify any gaps before it starts inviting a large number of people.

In Virginia, Riverside Health System plans to conduct a test run Monday before it starts vaccinating employees, currently scheduled for Wednesday, Cindy Williams, vice president and chief pharmacy officer, said in an interview Saturday.

“You plan and you plan and you plan” with the expectation that tweaks will need to be made, Williams said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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