New York state’s largest hospital system is anticipating it won’t get an ample supply of Covid-19 vaccine for all of its frontline workers in the first rounds of distribution.
Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine could be sent around the country within a matter of weeks. The company announced Monday that initial clinical trial results show it’s more than 90% effective and it could apply for authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine as soon as next week.
Healthcare workers, essential workers, the elderly, and those with underlying immune conditions will be given priority.
Northwell Health is expecting monthly shipments of the vaccine, said Dr. Mark Jarrett, who’s coordinating the health system’s immunization program and has been on regular calls with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed, which is also working on the federal government’s vaccine distribution plan.
Northwell Health has about 55,000 workers who have face-to-face contact with patients, Jarrett said.
We know that first shipment or two is going to be a limited supply,” he said. “I doubt we’ll get enough for everybody.”
Who'll get the vaccine first: Northwell has about 55,000 workers who have face-to-face contact with patients, Jarrett said. It has developed a tiered system for deciding who gets it first. The most important factor is how closely the employee works with coronavirus patients, but they’ll also take into account a worker's age, since older people are more vulnerable. It will not be mandatory.
How they'll get it: Pfizer’s vaccine has to be kept at minus 75 degrees Celsius (-103F), and hospitals typically don’t have freezers that cold. Pfizer is shipping the vaccines in boxes packed with dry ice that needs to be replenished. Northwell is not depending on those “thermal shippers" and has bought ultra-low temperature freezers for its 17 hospitals.
“We call them pizza boxes,” Jarrett said of Pfizer’s shippers. “They may work perfectly fine, but every battle plan works until the first bullet is shot. We did not want to take a chance.”
Who'll get it next: The federal government has not yet decided what formula it will use to distribute the vaccines to states, according to Jarrett. He said he suspects the vaccine will be distributed to states based on how many cases they have, but there’s a “medical controversy” over whether that’s the right approach.
The goal would be to protect hardest hit communities, but the vaccine doesn’t take effect for a month to six weeks after the first dose is given, and by that time other communities could be harder hit. The vaccine is given in two doses three weeks apart.
The government could be considering other factors, such as the number of elderly people in each state, or which states have populations living in higher densities, which could allow the virus to spread more rapidly.
“I’m sure they are figuring this out now as we speak,” Jarrett said, adding that health officials might not want to make a decision until closer to the vaccine’s distribution date, since the spread of the virus could change.