Thrive by IU Health

June 01, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine: Freezers ready to store; Staff ready to administer first doses

COVID-19 vaccine: Freezers ready to store; Staff ready to administer first doses

It’s been a long time coming but now, a new vaccine is making its debut in the fight against the deadly pandemic. And IU Health is at the ready for storage and administration of the new drug.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

For all the devastation the novel Coronavirus has caused – stealing the lives of 290,000 Americans - there’s not much mystery to the administration of the first vaccines. They will be delivered to IU Health in cardboard boxes – just like any other medication.

Freezer temperature set at -80 degrees Celsius

Pharmacists will prep the doses that will be stored in two large freezers – keeping the temperature at about 100 degrees below zero. Together the freezers are large enough to hold about half a million doses of the vaccine,” said Tate Trujillo, IU Health Director of Pharmacy. He began his role with IU Health in April of 1996. He oversees about 100 pharmacists and 100 pharmacy technicians who will be involved in the distribution of the new vaccine. Another 200 IU Health employees/volunteers and about 400 IU Health “learners” will also be trained for the distribution.

“I did trauma critical care in my clinical training so the idea of emergency mass casualty falls in line with what I am comfortable with professionally,” said Trujillo. “As far as being part of history, I am more focused now on utilizing the vaccine to the best of our ability. Once the vaccine is prepped, it is good for six hours so it is critical that the dose is used by the person who made the appointment,” he said.

Later this week, IU Health will be one of the first healthcare facilities in the United States designated to administer the first COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc./BioNTech. The drug received “Emergency Use Authorization” from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Based on the FDA review, IU Health officials are confident the vaccine is safe. In clinical trials involving more than 37,000 people the two-dose drug demonstrated 95 percent effectiveness in preventing COVID infections. IU Health initially expects to receive 975 doses. Another vaccine, from the company Moderna, is also expected to receive Emergency Use Authorization this month. Other vaccines are in the final stages of development.

First to receive those doses will be nursing home residents, and front line workers who are caring for or potentially being exposed to patients who tested positive for COVID-19. Those team members will be notified of their eligibility for the vaccine by an email. They will then schedule an appointment to have the vaccine administered to them.

“Initially we are budgeting to administer a vaccine every 10 minutes per a vaccinator,” said Trujillo. “We will be starting with four vaccinators and plan on 12-hours of clinic each day and then ramp it up to eight vaccinators,” he added. The Indiana State Department of Health has designated 50 vaccination sites across the state. IU Health will be administering the vaccine at seven of those locations. In preparation for administering the first vaccines, about two dozen pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and other technicians, recently staged a trial run at one of the locations. Their mock run-through included reviewing registration and administration processes, along with transferring the vaccine from those large freezers to prepare for the first recipients.

Freezer in which the vaccine's are in

Because the vaccine is administered in two doses, recipients will then schedule a second appointment between 21 to 28 days after their first dose. Like many vaccines, the side effects are predicted to be mild to moderate. Some symptoms may include soreness around the area of injection, fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint pain 24 hours after each dose. Studies show the symptoms may be more common after the second dose. If symptoms linger beyond 24 hours, individuals are advised to stay home and contact their physician for evaluation.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health’s three-part vaccine allocation plan, the second phase of vaccines will focus on those individuals living or working in places where it is difficult to social distance, such as prisons, group homes, or shelters. Also included in that phase are essential workers such as first responders, food service, retail and public transit workers, teachers, public health workers and individuals at high risk.

Widespread public distribution of the vaccine is expected by late spring or early summer 2021. Until then, health care professionals encourage people to continue wearing their masks, practice social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

“When people ask if this is light at the end of the tunnel, I tell them ‘the light will be when everyone is standing in line for the vaccine,’” said Trujillo.

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COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. Find answers to symptoms, diagnosis, vaccine and testing questions.