CHELAN — The logistics of giving COVID-19 vaccines, both Pfizer and Moderna, is a nightmare for medical providers.
Because of the dire nature of the COVID-19 situation, pharmaceutical companies put out a vaccine at a record pace, but that’s led to some difficulties in their delivery, said Ray Eickmeyer, Lake Chelan Health vaccination lead. The challenges medical providers face include the way the vaccine is packaged, the limited time frame for giving the vaccine, the fact that people must get two doses and the number of different vaccines on the market.
“If you want, for a lack of better terminology, it could be a faster vaccine,” Eickmeyer said. “But we’re in emergency vaccine (status), you know, and so it’s not a nice vaccine.”
Lake Chelan Health is delivering the Moderna vaccine to its patients. The hospital held a drive-thru clinic on Saturday for 280 people in the 65 years and older category to get vaccinated. It was the first clinic for that vaccination phase they’ve held.
Hospitals would normally plan a year in advance for a large-scale vaccination clinic and order a precise amount based on the area’s population, said Agustin Benegas, Lake Chelan Health spokesperson. But vaccine supplies are small and medical providers don’t know when or how much of the vaccine they will receive.
In addition, the flu shot comes in a single, pre-filled syringe that medical providers just need to open and deliver, Eickmeyer said. But Moderna and Pfizer come in vials containing 10 doses, which means health care providers can’t just tell individual people to come get vaccinated.
If they tried to vaccinate individuals instead of groups, they could end up throwing away hundreds of undelivered doses, he said.
“So once I put the needle in the vial, I have six hours to use 10 doses,” Eickmeyer said. “So to do that without wasting this precious vaccine you have to have everyone scheduled and lined up.”
Another challenge that most people don’t really consider is the need for two doses to be delivered, he said. People have to show back up to the same place where they got their first dose, because the vaccine comes in batches of 10.
“I got 10 people that got a first shot on day one,” Eickmeyer said. “Twenty eight days later, I’ve got nine people that show up and so I have one extra dose. Now I could give that one dose to someone else, but then 28 days later I open a vial to give one dose out of 10 to one person.”
It quickly becomes like one of those ridiculous math problems about trains leaving stations at different times, he said.
Adding to the confusion, new vaccines are also coming on the market from Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, which all are packaged in different ways, need to be stored in different ways and are delivered in different ways, Eickmeyer said. To help reduce confusion, medical providers are giving vaccine cards to people after their first shot that indicate the type of vaccine they received.
“I’m worried about patient safety,” he said. “So we’ve been doing some hard work of educating people through our drive-thru that they have to bring their vaccine card.”
Despite all the difficulties, it’s rewarding to give people their first vaccine shot, Eickmeyer said. People sometimes cry, they’re so relieved.
“The thing in medicine is sometimes you’re just frustrated that you don’t feel like you’re making a difference,” he said. “I feel like we’re making at least an emotional difference in people’s lives and I feel like this is the end game.”