ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Officials from University of Rochester Medical Center say they are preparing for the arrival of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine.
Officials said Tuesday that the vaccine, from Pfizer and BioNTech, could receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week, with the initial vaccine shipment arriving in Rochester as early as next week.
With the arrival of the vaccine finally on the horizon, URMC is planning all the details on how to accept deliveries, store the vaccine, and distribute doses as quickly as possible.
Officials say a challenge with the Pfizer vaccine is that it requires “high-tech, ultra-cold freezers” that store the product at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit. In the video player above, URMC’s Chief Pharmacy Officer, Curt Haas, shows off one of the freezers purchased by the hospital system to manage the frozen vaccine inventory.
According to Haas, each freezer can hold 170,000 to 180,000 doses. He says the freezers are on a back up emergency power source, with alarm systems in place to signal and rise in temperatures that could threaten the vaccine quality. Haas says that each freezer is being packed with Styrofoam containers and freezer packs to reduce air flow and maintain the ultra-cold temperature when the inner doors are opened.
Officials say the Pfizer vaccine ships in dry ice, and packaged in small trays that fit in boxes, roughly the size of a personal-pan pizza box, with each package containing about 975 doses of the vaccine.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo demonstrated the Pfizer COVID-19 packaging during a coronavirus briefing.
URMC officials say that the pharmacy team must handle the vaccine with “care and speed.”
They say the teams will have less than two minutes to transfer the vaccine from the shipping carton into the freezer.
Administration of the vaccine
Clair Burke, Assistant Director of Inpatient Operations for the URMC Pharmacy department, demonstrated how the vaccine will be prepared for individual doses:
Officials say the frozen vials contain a concentrated solution, and after thawing for about an hour, each vial will be “reconstituted by adding a Pfizer-suppled, room-temperature ‘diluent’ solution.” According to URMC, once that diluent solution is added, it has to be used within five hours.
If defrosted, it can be stored in a refrigerator for up to five days as long as the diluent solution has not been added.
Pharmacists can draw five doses from each vial into syringes for individual doses, measured carefully to not waste a drop, URMC officials say, who add that prepared vaccine syringes will be taken directly to vaccination clinics in the hospital or other locations over time.
Officials say doses will be prepared hour by hour, near the location in which they are to be administered. Once removed from refrigeration and drawn into the syringe, health professionals say the vaccine must be administered within one hour to ensure it remains effective.
URMC officials say pharmacists will pull just enough vials to prepare for the vaccinations planned each day. They say unused vials can remain refrigerated for another four days without harming the vaccine, eliminating the risk of waste.