Doctors prepare for COVID vaccine shipments, anticipate community vaccination sites

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, health care facilities in the Cape Fear are getting new equipment on hand, and making plans on how to distribute a vaccine once it’s available.

Doctors says distribution could very well look like what we see every year with flu shots, and what we’ve seen with widespread COVID testing sites.

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If things go as planned, one doctor at Novant Health says they’re hoping to start getting Pfizer vaccine shipments in mid-December and Moderna vaccine shipments towards the end of December. She says they’ll be ready to immediately start the first phase of distribution as soon as they get them.

“We went ahead and ordered four ultra-low temperature freezers, so we can have them on hand to be able to store the product as they become available,” Novant Senior Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Executive Becky Bean said.

Bean says the two front-running companies creating a vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna, tell them the vaccine will also come in packaging that maintains the product’s temperature.

“The Pfizer product is good for five days in the refrigerator, whereas the Moderna product is good for 30 days in the refrigerator,” Bean said. “Both of them then have a six-hour window to utilize all the doses out of a vial once it’s opened.”

Novant plans to keep those freezers with the vaccine doses at a hub, and use a centralized approach in distribution.

“And then we’ll be able to distribute to other locations, and increase access points as we have more products available,” she said.

At Wilmington Health, CEO Jeff James says they’re also looking into getting even more equipment to handle the vaccine shipments.


“Wilmington Health has an advantage here, because we conduct so much clinical research that we have the freezers and equipment necessary to handle these vaccines,” James said.
Doctors say each vaccine vial can vaccinate multiple people.”My understanding is that the Pfizer product will have five doses in one vile, and the Moderna product will have 10 doses in one vial,” Bean said.

Once the vaccine is available to everyone in the community, Bean says distribution could look a lot like the way COVID testing is being done now.

“We’re going to have to have a lot of different access points for those folks,” she said. “I’m envisioning mass immunization opportunities. I’m envisioning mobile units we may deploy to some areas that maybe, historically, are underserved.”

Bean says the second dose for the Pfizer vaccine comes around 21 days after the first dose, and the second dose of the Moderna vaccine comes 28 days after the first dose.
At Novant, she says they’ve talked about giving patients a color-coded card to help remind them when they need to get their second dose.

Doctors also say they’ll use similar resources to communicate with and educate people about the vaccine once it becomes available.

“The vaccine will take two doses, separated out by a period of time, so being able to make sure we can encourage our patients to be compliant with that second vaccine is something we’re also preparing to do,” James said.