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A Special Freezer? That’s Only Part of the Plan to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine in State

November 17, 2020

COVID-19 vaccine development might be the national focus now, but plans for storing and distributing doses have been top-of-mind at Hartford HealthCare (HHC) for several months.

Eric Arlia, director of pharmacy for the system, said he is hoping to receive word that vaccines being developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are approved and coming “in the very near future.”

HHC will use different distribution methods for each because the developing vaccines have different storage needs. Pfizer’s vaccine requires what Arlia called “ultra-cold storage” at minus-100 degrees, so HHC ordered a special freezer that will hold about 280,000 doses at Hartford Hospital.

“We will follow a ‘hub and spoke model’ and supply other acute-care facilities from Hartford Hospital,” he said. “Once it is defrosted, the vaccine is good in a regular refrigerator for up to five days and at room temperature for up to six hours.”

The Moderna vaccine must be kept at minus-4 degrees, which he said can be accommodated in each hospital’s existing refrigeration units.

When the vaccine is distributed, people must schedule appointments for the required two doses, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, HHC’s chief clinical officer. More information on the process will be available in the future.

The vaccine news was the highlight of the dismal scenario that is wave two of the pandemic. In a media briefing Nov. 17, he said HHC has 193 hospitalized patients.

“That more than tripled since early October,” Dr. Kumar said. A predictive model created through HHC’s collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows the numbers rising higher by late December with little to no federal or state intervention.

“We have had state response,” he said, “so I am hoping for a less intense wave.”

What has changed from late spring, however, is the type of people infected. Dr. Kumar said there are fewer old people getting sick, fewer patients in the intensive care units (ICUs) and fewer dying.

“It’s not because the virus is kinder to us, but we have more tools available,” he said, adding that HHC has 18 people ventilated in its ICUs, which is “much less than in March and April.”