Routt County is ready for the first vaccines |

Routt County is ready for the first vaccines

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Sunday, the first shipment of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines left Michigan, with the first injections in the U.S. anticipated to begin Monday for high-risk health care workers.

Routt County has been preparing for months and was identified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) as one of the regional hubs for distribution.

UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center was also the recipient of one of 10 ultra-cold freezers purchased by CDHPE and strategically distributed.

Affectionately named “Stone Cold Steve Frostin’” through a vote by hospital staff, the freezer is capable of going as low as -130 degrees Fahrenheit. The Pfizer Vaccine needs to be stored between -76 degrees and -112 degrees.

The Pfizer vaccine will arrive in special shipping containers that can be recharged with dry ice every five days, according to UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek. “Once thawed, it is good for five days in a refrigerator. Once reconstituted, it is good for six hours.”

The hospital is scheduled to receive 580 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first shipment, and 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine — once approved and shipped — which is anticipated to happen within about a week of the arrival of the Pfizer vaccines.

The Pfizer Vaccine needs to be stored between -76 degrees and -112 degrees. Routt County’s special freezer is ready for the first shipment of 580 doses. (UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center/courtesy)

The amount of vaccines listed for the first shipments is the amount the medical center in Steamboat will administer locally, according to CDHPE, not the amount they will distribute to other facilities. The exact day they will arrive in Routt County has not been made official as of Sunday.

Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director for infection prevention at UCHealth, noted everything at this time is still an estimate — actual numbers will be known upon actual arrivals. The operations and logistics are complex, she said, and along with the vaccines, must come the supplies required to actually administer them. There’s also a lot of paperwork.

“These locations were chosen for their unique abilities to store, monitor and handle vaccines in ultra-cold temperatures, as well as their willingness to redistribute COVID-19 vaccines to other providers in their regions,” according a CDPHE news release. “The state also considered equitable geographic distribution as well as transportation logistics given expected winter conditions in the coming months.”

Barron said the UCHealth system has been preparing since July and using some experience from the H1N1 vaccine distribution in 2009.

That includes creating alliances with state and local government agencies, she said, and making sure everyone has access to the vaccine.

The biggest lesson learned was the communication piece, Barron said.

“Colorado is requesting enough vaccines to provide for all Coloradans,” according to the CDHPE. “Because of supply chain limitations, we expect we will receive regular COVID-19 vaccine allocations from the federal government on a weekly basis. To be as fair and efficient with distribution as possible, the state has developed a phased approach to vaccine distribution to save lives and end the crisis that has been brought on by the pandemic as quickly as possible. The federal government is determining the allocation amount by the size of every state’s total population and the quantity of ready-to-ship doses from the manufacturers. The first shipment will be 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The second shipment will be 95,600 of the Moderna vaccine.”

The Moderna vaccine can be stored in a regular freezer at about -4 degrees, and thus can be distributed more widely, especially to rural areas, according to CDPHE.

Stone Cold Steve Frostin’ is about the size of a large vending machine, Reznicek said, and requires special electrical wiring for the 220v power.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the exact location of the freezer and security aspects cannot be shared,” she said.

As public health officials prepare to receive weekly shipments, Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington said at the town hall panel Friday there could be “up to a couple thousand people who qualify for the first phase. That covers health care providers having direct contact with COVID patients, as well as the most vulnerable patients in long-term care facilities.”

Harrington added that “not everyone will probably accept it, though our early indications suggest there is going to be high acceptance in health care community.”

Barron said based on an UCHealth system-wide survey, there were people who said they didn’t want it, but the overwhelming majority indicated they would get the vaccine as soon as offered.

“If we are only getting a few hundred vaccines a week,” Harrington said, “you can see how that marches out, and it may take us a month or more to get through first phase. … But I would hope that come February, we are ready to move into second phase — vulnerable people and critical workforce individuals. … Once we get through the second phase, which I suspect will take a few months, then the vaccine will be open for people not fitting any of those first two phases — primarily, that is going to be younger and healthier individuals. I would expect, as indicated, that probably won’t come about until early summer months.”

The initial 2.9 doses of the Pfizer vaccine comes as the U.S. reached a single-day case record on Friday, with more than 236,000 new cases and more than 2,900 deaths. On Wednesday, more than 3,000 people died as a result of COVID-19.

Education is a huge part of the roll out, Barron said. “It’s a purely voluntary process. … We want to make sure people make an informed decision. And if their decision is ‘no,’ that’s OK. They won’t be penalized — we just want to make sure it’s not based on a conspiracy theory.”

Barron uses her own mother as an example. “She hates needles and hates vaccines. We spent many years arguing about her getting a flu shot. … Are there unknowns? Yes. But we take risks every day we walk outside.”

As with anything, like driving a car, there are ways to mediate the risk, Barron continued. The vaccines are based on “good data and smart science. This is intended to help.”

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