N.D. pharmacies prepare for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines

Good Day Dakota

The COVID-19 vaccine is making its way to North Dakota.

It’s been a mad dash to get a vaccine ready, but there are still steps to take in order to prepare here in the capital city.

Sanford Health Pharmacy Supervisor Greg Fritz says, “we’ve been preparing for months actually..
as soon as we found out that the vaccine was gonna be available sometime before the end of the year. I think way back in August we started getting groups together to talk about acquisition, distribution, administration, and recording of those vaccines, and also trying to come up with priorities for who gets the vaccine first.”

With direction from the federal government and the state, phase I goes to the essential health care workers that are working with COVID patients, then phase II to patients in long term care
facilities like nursing homes.

Fritz says, “The vaccine might be limited at first so it might take some time to get through those phases. But after that it will roll out to more of the general public.”

Health care workers at hospitals like Sanford get first priority for vaccination, but not all workers may receive one right away because it depends on the supply the state receives. Hospital workers won’t be penalized if they choose not to vaccinate.

Fritz says, “There is no mandate from the federal government to take it and we’re not mandating
it here at our work. It’s not to say that some employers may mandate it down the line
but we are not at this point.”

Vaccine or not, all workers will continue to wear the proper PPE at Sanford after it’s distributed.
So when will they start?

Fritz says, “The state has put the order in for us and we’re expecting it optimistically within the next few weeks.. at least before the end of the year.”

This is new territory for pharmacies, specifically when it comes to storing Pfizer vaccine. The first one that will arrive at Sanford which requires ultra-cold freezers.

Fritz explains, “We have an ultra cold freezer in our pharmacy right now. It’s got a CO2 tank back up in case there’s a failure. We also have an emergency generator to help with any issues we might have with the freezer because we surely want to be good stewards of that vaccine. We don’t want to waste any because of equipment failure.”

It’s a large stand up freezer set at 75 degrees below centigrade to keep the Pfizer vaccine cold enough for optimal storage. They will even check the vaccine every 15 minutes to track the temperature.

Fritz says, “Once you take it out of ultra cold and you keep it either under regular frozen or refrigerated it is only good for 5 days. And once its taken out of the refrigerator and diluted, we have six hours to give it.”

Fritz explains that the Moderna vaccine that will be coming later will be stored at 20 below centigrade. As of right now, they don’t know the expiration dates of the vaccines.

He says their biggest challenge will be getting those ultra cold freezers to the rural hospitals since they are so rare, So they will have a lot of planning to get the vaccine out to them in a timely fashion.

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