80 doses of the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, December 16. The limited national distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine was earmarked specifically for healthcare workers.
For Nurse Practitioner Ashley Beying, the decision to be among the first recipients was easy.
"I chose to get vaccinated knowing that I would be protecting my loved ones and patients," Beying said. "By choosing to vaccinate, I am also making the choice to protect those around me that I serve on a daily basis, from the risk of contracting that virus from me. This vaccine is the key to getting out of this deadly pandemic. It is my hope that each person in our community will do their part to vaccinate themselves so that we can start to enjoy a 'normal' life again."
According to the Kansas Department of Health & Environment, the state received 24,000 doses. Kansas hospitals employ more than 100,000 people, so shipments were allocated based on facility size and immediate need. First priority is given to front-line staff who have a higher potential for exposure: doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, emergency personnel, laboratory staff, etc.
All CHS employees have the option of receiving the vaccine as dosages become available. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), CHS did not issue a vaccine mandate.
“This is new to everyone. As healthcare workers become more comfortable with the idea of taking the vaccination and see that others aren’t having any immediate side effects, we may see more team members add themselves to the list to receive one as well,” said Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Clingenpeel. “The hope is to get as many of our healthcare workers vaccinated as possible—the sooner the better. But if spreading it out is what it takes, we are willing to help people and be there with the vaccine when they are comfortable.”
Timing is also crucial in administering the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Once a vial is opened, it must be used within six hours. To meet the time limit, CHS employees who choose to vaccinate must report to the hospital at specified times. Groups of five are vaccinated during each interval.
On December 18, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to a second COVID-19 vaccine by Moderna, with shipments beginning early this week. National distribution will continue as Pfizer and Moderna accelerate production. By distributing shipments as they become available, front-line workers can be vaccinated sooner and health systems aren’t overwhelmed with vaccinating all employees at once.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, with the second dose administered 21 to 28 days after the first dose.
Vaccinations are the latest in a long list of precautionary measures throughout Coffey Health System: visitors are not allowed at the hospital, family members are restricted for clinic appointments, and all staff must conduct temperature screens at the beginning of each shift. Additional logistics are in place to separate potential or confirmed COVID patients from others. One wing of the hospital now serving as a quarantine unit. Only essential staff wearing full personal protective equipment may enter.
“On top of coordinating all of these protective measures (and more), our infection control (IC) team dropped everything when we found out the vaccine was coming,” Clingenpeel said. “We were supposed to receive at least one day’s notice before we would receive the vaccines; however, this time we found out that morning. Within a just a few hours, we were able to get set up and organize which staff would receive the vaccine. Kudos to the IC team for their ongoing work to keep us safe amid this pandemic.”
While vaccine distribution is not officially broken into phases with deadlines, Clingenpeel explains his expectations.
“I am calling this Phase 1 for healthcare workers. Phase II would be those in nursing homes or immunocompromised. Phase III would be the public. We have no real idea on the dates, but I am hearing the goal is to have Phase II started between February and March. Then Phase III would hopefully start sometime in the early spring. We will see how it plays out though. If we can say anything positive has come out of this, we have all learned to be more flexible and adaptable in this pandemic.”