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Storing and distributing vaccine is complicated

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 5:54 PM EST
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WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Recent news of vaccine possibly being spoiled at a hospital in southern Vermont has highlighted exactly how precise storage needs to be when it comes to vaccine distribution.

A mass vaccination program is not simply putting a dose in the arm. It is a complicated process with many steps along the way.

“It’s a really complicated system but we are working through it,” said Frank Gesek, the chief of pharmacy at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction.

From the delivery dock at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, hundreds of doses of vaccine are carted down the hallways to the pharmacy once a week. The packages themselves are fitted with cold storage inserts and high-tech temperature monitors. Once unpacked, the vials go into a freezer set at -21 degrees Celsius. Another cold storage unit is on standby.

“So in the event that this does go outside temperature limits, we could immediately move it to another freezer,” Gesek said.

Every day, in about one-hour increments, the vaccine is separated into individual syringes. At this point in the process, making sure the vaccine is not spoiled becomes a race against the clock.

“Once that seal on the vial is punctured, it gives us 6 hours from the first puncture to the time where we say that’s it, that is the time limit of the vaccine,” he said.

A pharmacist needs to be with the vaccine every step of the way, which includes the long walk to the daily vaccination clinic. There, a steady stream of patients and staff file in and out to receive their shot.

“Doing as good as we can,” said John Graves of Springfield.

The Navy veteran was there to get his first of two doses.

Meanwhile, the process continues behind the scenes, as front-line workers get their second shots.

“I am hoping that it helps for me personally to protect me and other people also I guess,” Graves said.

The logistics of properly handling the vaccine and correctly calculating supply on hand is coordinated with the daily vaccination schedule. There are backup plans for that as well.

“Like the other week when we have some snow and stuff like that, people couldn’t show up. We called other people down the list and said, ‘Hey, can you come in on this day,’” Gesek said.

To date, the VA hospital has administered more than 3,000 shots and zero doses have been wasted. Hospital officials say it is efficiency that ultimately leads to saving more lives.

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