WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — With the U.S. government panel’s endorsements of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday evening, hospitals are preparing to potentially get shipments within days.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center, along with Novant Health and Bladen County Hospital are among the first to get the vaccine.
“This is a massive vaccination campaign,” NHRMC’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. West Paul said. “Larger than I think we have ever done. We talk about H1N1 or swine flu. This doesn’t even compare to that. This is huge compared to what we’re trying to do.”
NHRMC hopes to start vaccinating its front line workers by the end of next week.
“We need as many people as possible to get this vaccine, because if folks get this vaccine, it means it’s going to be way less likely they will get the virus itself, and then the virus will have less places to go,” NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.
With the endorsement from the U.S. panel Thursday, the FDA is one step closer to a final decision. A decision is expected in the coming days.
Paul says they already have a freezer that is capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine at an ultra low temperature, but they have another one on deck.
“We do have on order a large freezer,” he said. “We’ve got a freezer that is available that we can use to store it if we’d rather do that. You can also store in dry ice. We do have connections with several dry ice manufacturers. We can use that, particularly for transport.”
If the vaccine is given full approval, Paul says they’re expecting three pallets with around 2,900 doses. Once they get the vaccine, he says they plan to start vaccinations almost immediately.
“Within two days of the actual approval when the state releases the vaccine, we will probably get it,” Paul said. “Maybe as soon as 24 hours. Then within 48 hours of our receipt, so we would be very hopeful that Thursday or Friday of next week we would begin our vaccination program.”
Vaccines will first go to front line workers. Paul says they’ll stagger those vaccinations, because there is the potential for the side effect of flu-like symptoms.
Although he calls it one of the fastest ever, Paul explains why he is confident and impressed with the entire COVID-19 vaccine trial process
“When my group comes, I will be the first in line to get this vaccine, knowing what I know about the vaccine, the technology, and knowing what I know about COVID,” he said. “The vaccine production has been remarkably fast, has been record time. A lot of that has been enabled by decades of work in biotechnology and molecular biology. This is what this scientific research has been geared to.”
Paul says tens of thousands of people have already taken the vaccine, and that number could jump to millions in a few months.
“This is probably the biggest, most transparent vaccine trials we have ever had,” Paul said. “The FDA, as well as independent agencies are looking at this data. Number one, for safety. We have not seen vaccines that have been this effective. This could be truly groundbreaking in many human diseases.”
For those concerned about sharing their personal information, Paul says most people won’t be required to share more information than they would with their regular doctor.
“If they’re within our electronic system such as Epic, which we use, which the majority of a lot of physicians’ offices use it will be completely within that vehicle,” he said. “So again, personal data will stay there. It won’t go anywhere other than what’s been recorded. The other databases with the state, they’re secure databases. Again, they will not be released.”
The vaccine will require two doses, so he says they may need peoples’ phone numbers in order to remind them about coming back for the second dose.
Paul also says they’re working on the logistics of distributing the vaccine to the general public, but hopes they can start mass vaccinations, similar to flu shots.
The Moderna vaccine is still under review.
Paul says the Moderna vaccine does not need to be stored at quite as low a temperature as the Pfizer vaccine, so their idea was to give that vaccine to places like nursing homes and health departments which often don’t have the ultra low temperature freezers.