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For Front-Line Healthcare Workers, The Wait for a Vaccine is Almost Over

December 11, 2020

There’s a “pep in people’s steps” in the Hartford Hospital Intensive Care Unit as staff await arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the next few days.

Dr. Patrick Troy, the hospital’s director of pulmonary critical care, called the anticipated federal nod to emergency use authorization (EUA) of Pfizer’s vaccine “the moment we’ve all been waiting for” since the virus first hit in late winter.

“We feel very competent,” he said of the clinicians caring for patients in the pandemic’s second wave. “(In the spring) we didn’t have true hope we could turn this arc around.”

The vaccine provides that hope, and Dr. Troy said he tells anyone who asks how they can help that getting vaccinated is the most critical step to ensure personal and community health.

“We will be happy to show you it’s safe by getting (the vaccine) first,” he added.

Hartford HealthCare (HHC) will receive 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine within 24 hours of EUA approval by the Food & Drug Administration, according to Eric Arlia, HHC senior director of pharmacy.

This week, teams have identified colleagues with the greatest exposure to COVID-19 through work as clinicians, environmental sciences teams, food services staff and others. That exercise, Arlia said, winnowed down the list from more than 30,000 system employees to about 7,000 most at risk. More work will further narrow the list for the first round of vaccinations.

Arlia detailed the following steps in HHC’s vaccine distribution process:

  • Vaccine is expected come by truck from Chicago in special containers packed with dry ice to keep doses at the required temperatures.
  • Hartford Hospital will receive the system’s doses and store them in special ultra-low temperature refrigerators.
  • Hospital teams will thaw the doses and ship vials in refrigerated vehicles to each HHC acute care hospital. Vaccine doses are good for five days in regular refrigerators.
  • Each facility will hold employee clinics to vaccinate those identified as at highest risk. Teams of pharmacists and nurses will reconstitute the vaccine, which comes in powdered form, and administer it to staff at a rate of about one every 10 minutes.

This process will continue for upcoming shipments of vaccine. Arlia anticipated vaccinating all 7,000 high-risk HHC colleagues within three weeks.

“We’re feeling really good about this,” Arlia said. “It’s a very exciting day for us. We’ve been waiting a long time.”

Dr. Troy underscored the safety of the vaccine, which has been shown in trials to be about 95 percent effective against the virus. Extensive efforts are underway to engage HHC colleagues in the vaccine push, although the system is not mandating it.

“We’re seeing an active movement toward enthusiasm around the vaccine,” he said. “Our goal is to convince everyone that it’s the right thing to do.”