HELENA — The first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Montana as soon as December 15. St. Peter’s Health in Helena is one of 10 facilities in Montana that will receive the first round of COVID vaccine doses from Pfizer. The regional medical center has been preparing for the arrival and taking extra steps for the storage of the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at -80 degrees Celsius, roughly four and a half times colder than the average home freezer.
“We had to go and actually purchase a specific freezer to be able to receive and store the vaccine appropriately to the specifications,” said St. Peter’s Pharmacy Clinical Manager Tom Richardson. “That’s not necessarily a standard type of equipment that hospitals of healthcare entities have.”
St. Peter’s new ultra low temperature freezer will be able to house thousands of doses, for both the hospital’s distribution and community partners.
Richardson says they’ve been in close contact with the State of Montana, Lewis and Clark County and other organizations to make sure the vaccine roll out is as smooth as possible.
Following the State’s distribution plan, the first round of doses will be put into use in short order with critical COVID response staff.
“For this immediate phase of what we’re anticipating to receive from the State, we’re going to put those doses of vaccine to immediate use vaccinating our front line healthcare workers who are at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 or those caring for actually ill COVID-19 patients,” said Richardson.
While voluntary, many critical care staff at the hospital are eager to receive their first dose. A second dose will be needed three week later to ensure full protection.
The Food and Drug Administration.(FDA) released documents Tuesday ahead of their Dec. 10 meeting to grant emergency authorization for distribution of the Pfizer vaccine. Their findings indicate the vaccine is safe and provides nearly full protection after the second dose.
The document also laid out potential negative side effects from the injections. Fatigue, fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain were the most commonly reported symptoms.
Richardson says it’s not unusual for there to be negative side effects with a vaccine since the process of vaccination is training the body to identify and fight off a foreign invader.
“The medical community as a whole has supported the FDA’s stance and the rigorous criteria they put forward that use emergency use authorization for any COVID vaccine,” said Richardson. “While certainly there’s been some healthy skepticism early on, at this phase we do have full confidence. One study citing over 43,000 patients and showing a greater than 95 percent efficacy and no serious safety events is a nice way to put this into context.”
The State of Montana’s Phase 1 of their vaccination plan calls for the vaccination of health care workers and Montanans that are most at risk, such as the elderly living
The second priority population for vaccination in Montana are the most at risk, such as those living in assisted living facilities.
The State of Montana will announce when vaccination will begin in additional groups.
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, communication with care facilities is being handled through a federal contract with CVS and Walgreens. The state vaccine allocation will be used to vaccinate this population and DPHHS will be prioritizing long term care facilities in initial phases per guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently just announced.
For the front line health care workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has felt like a marathon.
The finish line is coming into sight and people are cheering thanks to the vaccine, but the race is still a ways from being finished. Masks, washing hands, social distancing, and limiting contact with people outside your home is still highly recommended to help make sure the most people possible are able to cross the finish line.