Sentara prepares to receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine


A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The FDA is expected to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.

Two local hospital systems in Hampton Roads, Sentara and Riverside, are in line to get some of the first vaccines.

“It’s very, very difficult we had to get special freezers in. We also have to understand how to handle [them] because you can get burned from touching something that’s that cold,” Sentara’s Chief of Pharmacy Officer Tim Jennings told WAVY.

None of the other drugs in the hospital have to be kept as cold as this one, at basically 100 degrees below zero.

Jennings said the delivery chain is different than anything they’re used to.

Sentara has coolers packed with dry ice to move it. Jennings said they are training all of the pharmacy staff and nurses who will administer it on how to handle the ultra-cold vials so they don’t get burned.

He told us once they’re ready to immunize someone, the vaccine must thaw for 30 minutes then be diluted and administered relatively quickly to maintain efficacy.

It’s a lot of pressure on the workers.

“For us, it’s just trying to do the right thing and getting everything appropriate and realizing there’s a lot riding on this for not only ourselves, but our community. So it’s that responsibility that — it’s very tiresome,” Jennings said.

They plan to do a dry run later this week. Jennings hopes to have the vaccine sometime next week so they can start immunizing front-line hospital workers as soon as possible.

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Senatara COVID-19 Infographic (Dec. 2020)

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