Delivering Covid-19 shots to sites around the country is just the first step in vaccinating the population. Getting them from the freezer and into arms is another journey, complicated by the special handling the doses require but also because of cumbersome data-management systems. Sites must take precautions to ensure that they don’t contribute to the spread of the virus, measures that can slow down administration of shots. And at many locations, demand for doses has outstripped supply.
The Tennessee Riverpark vaccination site in Chattanooga, Tenn., administers the vaccine to about 3,500 people each week, typical for a site of its size and the number of doses it is receiving. Up and running since Dec. 23, the process has gotten smoother as the weeks go on, say health officials. A close examination of the distribution center puts into sharp relief the many people and processes that must align before doses can be administered with speed and efficiency.
Two Vaccines, Two Sets of Protocols
The vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. carry different handling requirements, storage protocols and guidelines for thawing and timing doses.
Storage: Facilities that handle both vaccines need to be equipped with three types of freezers and refrigeration units. One capable of storing Pfizer’s vaccine at deep freeze, another for storing the Moderna vaccine and then a refrigerator used for thawing. The vaccines’ crucial components can easily destabilize if not stored at the right temperature.
Health workers at vaccination sites are constantly managing freezing, refrigeration and thawing times. At the same time, they need to be mindful that thawed vaccines don’t sit unused beyond their expiration periods. The Pfizer vaccine can remain thawed after dilution for six hours before it expires. For the Moderna vaccine the time limit is also six hours.