Administering Covid-19 vaccines to sites across the country is only the first step in vaccinating the population. Taking them out of the freezer and into your arms is another journey, complicated by the special handling that the doses require, but also by cumbersome data management systems. Sites must take precautions to ensure that they do not contribute to the spread of the virus, measures that can slow the delivery of vaccines. And in many places, the demand for doses has outstripped the supply.
The Tennessee Riverpark vaccination site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, administers the vaccine to about 3,500 people each week, typical for a site its size and the number of doses it receives. In operation since Dec. 23, the process has become more fluid as the weeks have passed, health officials say. A close look at the distribution center highlights the large number of people and processes that must be lined up before doses can be delivered quickly and efficiently.
Two vaccines, two sets of protocols
Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. vaccines have different handling requirements, storage protocols, and guidelines for thawing and scheduling doses.
Storage: Facilities that handle both vaccines should be equipped with three types of freezers and refrigeration units. One capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine in a freezer, another for storing the Moderna vaccine, and then a refrigerator used for defrosting. Crucial components of vaccines can easily become destabilized if not stored at the proper temperature.
Health workers at vaccination sites constantly monitor freezing, refrigeration and thawing times. At the same time, they should be aware that thawed vaccines do not go unused beyond their expiration period. Pfizer vaccine can remain thawed after dilution for six hours before expiration. For the Moderna vaccine, the time limit is also six hours.