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Northeast Ohio Hospitals Receive First Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccines

Updated: 2:40 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine doses have arrived in Northeast Ohio. 

Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, as well as Aultman Hospital in Canton, all received shipments Tuesday morning.  

Cleveland Clinic and Aultman received their vaccines shortly after 9 a.m., while MetroHealth got its allocation around 8:45 a.m. – a little earlier than hospital officials had expected. 

The shipments contained 975 doses - 195 small vials containing five doses each - packed with dry ice. 

The Pfizer vaccine must be kept between -70 and -90 degrees Fahrenheit, said Jay Kuhn, MetroHealth's director of pharmacy services. 

“We’ve never had a shipment like this come like that, much less in dry ice, and the monitoring ... with the tags, and stuff," Kuhn said. 

"I’m glad that everything went well with this, but, we felt well prepared with all the info that came out," he said. 

After opening the box, Kuhn and two other employees transferred the vials to an ultra-cold freezer. The process needed to be done in under five minutes to keep the vaccines from coming to room temperature, Kuhn said. 

Only one freezer is needed to hold the initial shipment, but there are other freezers on MetroHealth's campus that can be used to store future shipments, he said. 

"We have backup monitoring in case something would go out, [and] we have other units nearby as backups," he said. 

"This has generator power, so if the electricity goes out, it will still run. But if something happens, like the freezer gives out, we have other sites in secure locations." 

MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic and the VA hospital will begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers Wednesday, officials said. To prepare for this, workers will take vials out of the freezer and put them into a refrigerated box to let them thaw. 

Aultman employees, on the other hand, could get vaccinated as soon as Tuesday afternoon, said Chris Parrish, senior vice president of the Aultman Health Care Delivery System. 

Critical care workers, such as employees in the intensive care unit who work directly with COVID-19 patients, will be first, he said. Then, the health system will begin a mass vaccination clinic for hospital employees Wednesday morning, Parrish said. 

Front line workers at the main campus in Canton will receive their shots there, while the hospital will transport doses in refrigerated coolers to its campuses in Orrville and Alliance for employees at those locations. 

 “There’s an app that we have where you can actually monitor the temperature of the vaccine all the way during its travel,” he said. “Our pharmacy couriers will be taking that to the different locations, so we never lose track of the vaccine.” 

The hospital system will stagger vaccinations over the next couple of weeks so that not all caregivers in a single department get their shots at the same time, in case employees need to take the day off due to side effects, Parrish added. 

The vaccine is a two-step process, so people who are vaccinated in this first round will receive a second shot in three weeks. The next shipment from Pfizer containing the second doses is expected next week, hospital officials said. 

The general public is not expected to have access to vaccine shots for several months, but employees and residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes are next on deck to get theirs. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partnered with drug stores, including Walgreens and CVS, to launch a program that will provide vaccines to thousands of nursing homes across the country, according to the CDC. 

The program will not start until Dec. 21, but several states, including Ohio, were selected to participate in an early test launch that will begin Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine said in a press conference Tuesday. 

Five to 10 nursing homes in the state will begin administering the vaccine Friday, he said. 

Aultman officials had previously been working with nursing homes in the region to coordinate vaccinations, Parrish said.  

“It took a little bit of strain off of the hospitals, to be honest with you, because that was going to be added workforce to figure out how to do that,” he said. 

“My understanding is that Walgreens and CVS also received their part of the initial distribution today as well, and that they are receiving quite a few more doses than we are because they have so many more people to vaccinate,” he said. 

Hospitals are also preparing for shipments of the vaccine from pharmaceutical company Moderna, which is expected to be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later this week.  

On Tuesday, the FDA released an analysis of the vaccine, finding it to be 94 percent effective. No adverse outcomes were reported, but side effects such as fatigue, headaches and pain after injection, were common, according to the analysis. 

If the vaccine is approved, hospitals could get doses as early as next week, officials said. Employees who received the Pfizer vaccine must get a vaccine from the same company for their second dose, Kuhn at MetroHealth said. 

The Moderna vaccine is also a two-dose vaccine, with shots given 28 days apart, he said. The vaccine will be easier for hospitals to store because it does not need to be kept in as cold of temperatures as the Pfizer shots, he added. 

 

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