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VCU discusses plans for distributing COVID-19 vaccine

As Americans head into the winter months and COVID-19 infections increase across the country, a glimmer of hope is on the horizon as the prospect of vaccines becomes a reality. In Virginia, COVID-19 vaccines for high-risk front-line health care workers became available recently.

Select staff at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) received their first dose Thursday, Dec. 17.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Desiderio Rimon, MD, of South Hill said.

Ikenna Ibe, MD, MPH, MBA, FACP, is the vice president of Medical Affairs and chief medical officer at VCU Health CMH. “This represents hope. Hope that fewer people will die from this virus,” he said. “Hope we can get back to normal. I did not do it just for myself but for everybody. I hope everyone will get it for this reason.”

VCU Health is one of a limited number of facilities in the commonwealth that meets the equipment and storage requirements to safely receive and store the COVID-19 vaccine.

What is VCU Health’s plan for distributing the vaccine?

Weeks ago, VCU Health created an internal vaccine distribution task force to develop a plan that ensures equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Initial vaccine supply is low, and the first priority is the safety of team members and patients.

Following guidance from the CDC and in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, VCU Health is offering the vaccine in phases.

VCU Health is now offering the vaccines to interested front-line medical workers so they can safely care for all of our patients during the pandemic. This includes those who provide care to known or suspected COVID-19 patients, such as in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit or the emergency department. It also includes employees who regularly work in long-term care facilities.

VCU Health CMH is receiving a daily shipment to be used each day to interested high-risk, front-line medical workers following the same protocols on a tiered basis.

After that, the distribution phases are flexible as the organization gets a better understanding of availability and continue to learn more about the new vaccines. VCU Health’s plan will include distributing the vaccine to an expanded pool of VCU Health employees, patients and hopefully, the broader community.

Though exact timing is uncertain, VCU Health will always make decisions with the safety of team members, patients and the community in mind.

How will VCU Health store the vaccines?

VCU Medical Center — VCU Health’s downtown Richmond hospital — meets all of the requirements to safely receive, store and transport the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored in extremely cold temperatures. It can be stored up to six months in special ultra-low temperature freezers set to -80 degrees Celsius. The Moderna vaccine – which is currently under consideration for emergency use by the FDA – can be stored up to six months in a standard freezer that maintains a temperature of -20 degrees Celsius.

As an academic medical center, VCU Health already has a number of these ultra-cold freezers, as well as the freezers and refrigerators necessary to store chemical medications and sensitive vaccines. VCU also have a new freezer to create extra storage space to ensure they are prepared to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to whomever needs it.

How much vaccine will VCU Health receive?

The state of Virginia is receiving an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine for health care personnel and long-term care residents. VCU Health is working closely with the Virginia Department of Health, and expect to receive approximately 3,800 doses for initial distribution across the VCU Health System.