Hampton Roads hospitals plan to begin COVID-19 vaccinations as early as next week

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Here in Hampton Roads, the Sentara and Riverside hospital systems will receive the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID 19 vaccine.

“We do expect that we should start seeing vaccine shipments in the state of Virginia as early as Monday,” Riverside Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer Cindy Williams told 10 On Your Side.

Both hospital systems have purchased the ultra-cold freezers the vaccine requires for storage and both are training pharmacists and nurses who will handle and administer the vaccine.

“We’re not used to using ultra-cold freezers. I mean, that’s a brand new technology for us,” Williams said.

They have to wear gloves and meticulously time out their workflow. That’s because, as Williams explained, the vaccine comes in trays of 975. If workers remove a full tray from the freezer, they have just five minutes to move it, say from the freezer to a cooler packed with dry ice.

If the tray has 974 doses, they’ve only got three minutes.

“And once you open a pack and you put it back in the freezer, you cannot reopen that package for two hours,” she said.

Once they begin immunizing, they must keep meticulous records for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also need to keep up with people who must get a second dose 21 days after the first.

The first to roll up their sleeves will be healthcare workers on the front lines: doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and those who deliver patients food and clean their rooms.

“We are planning to hopefully start vaccination as early as next Wednesday,” Williams said. They will likely do a dry run on Monday.

The plan she said is to take it slow at first, making adjustments when needed and keeping in mind those first in line for the immunization.

“If we’re going to be taking team members offline to get the vaccine or if we’re going to be asking them to get the vaccine after the end of a very long shift, we want to make sure we’re being respectful of their time. We want to make sure we do this right.”

Riverside is planning to stagger the vaccine distribution among workers to account for possible side effects that may impact a person’s ability to work. Some may experience flu-like symptoms for a day or so.

Williams said they are requesting unit managers consider scheduling about one-third of their staff for vaccines at a time, that way the entire unit could be vaccinated with both doses by the end of January.


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