Pharmacy and fire department administer first vaccines Thursday

Dec 17, 2020

Tyler Smith looks on as Harrison Deveer prepares his dose of the vaccine at Nikiski Fire Department Station One.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Less than 24 hours after the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine arrived on the Kenai Peninsula, five employees gathered in the back of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy to get their first doses.

Co-owner Justin Ruffridge watched as pharmacist Dave Blossom prepared a vial.

“You inverted?” he asked.

“I inverted, 10 times,” Blossom said.

“OK. So we have six hours from 12:30,” Ruffridge said.

Central Peninsula Hospital received its first batch of 975 vaccine doses Wednesday afternoon. Immediately, those doses were shuttled from the delivery minivan to an ultra-cold freezer inside the hospital.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy expects to receive about 400 of those doses in this first phase to vaccinate residents and employees of long-term care facilities.

First, the pharmacy vaccinated five of its own employees.

Ruffridge went first. Blossom handed the syringe to pharmacist Molly Hull.

Molly Hull administers the vaccine to Justin Ruffridge at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

“Well, it doesn’t feel bad,” Ruffridge said when it was over. “Feels like a normal vaccine. You are so good at giving vaccines. Like a champ.”

It’s just the first set of doses for the health care workers, first responders and long-term facility residents included in this phase of distribution. In three weeks, they’ll each get a second dose.

Hull administered the vaccine to her other three colleagues. When it was her turn, she switched with Blossom.

Ruffridge joked that they were practicing on one another. Later Thursday afternoon, they administered 25 doses of vaccine to Riverside Assisted Living. On Friday, they’ll start vaccinating staff and residents of Heritage Place.

After all was said and done, there was still another dose or two in the vial.

Each vial is supposed to contain five doses, but providers in Alaska and elsewhere are finding a bit extra in their supply. They’re getting mixed instructions on what to do with those doses. The FDA said in a Tweet yesterday they could be used. Ruffridge says he heard something else.

Patricia McClain and Molly Hannigan watch as Dave Blossom prepares a vial of coronavirus vaccine Thursday at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

“We heard on a call we were on that there might be extra. But they’re telling us not to use it because they’re not sure that the second doses that are coming will be filled to the same level,” Ruffridge said.

“That just feels wasteful, though,” Blossom said.

“It does. But you’ve got to plan for that second round,” Ruffridge said.

Later that afternoon, a group of Nikiski firefighters and paramedics gathered at Nikiski Fire Department Station One.

Paramedic Harrison Deveer, wearing gloves and a face shield, administered the vaccine to his colleagues. He said they’re staggering how they distribute it to first responders.

“The goal is to do it for people who are off duty and they have a couple of days, in case they do have side effects of the vaccine so they’re not coming to work with a fever or a headache or anything like that,” he said.

The department is also vaccinating emergency workers at the Kenai Fire Department and Central Emergency Services this weekend. On Saturday, they’ll do the same in Cooper Landing, Hope and Moose Pass.

“So total, we’re looking close to about, from our calculations so far, by the time we get done next week, it will be about 80 doses,” Deveer said. 

Fire Chief Bryan Crisp was first of the group to get the vaccine. He said he was ready to get it over with.

“Didn’t even feel it,” he said afterward.

There was an EpiPen on standby in case one of the recipients had an allergic reaction. In Juneau earlier this week, a health care worker had a rare anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine. It’s been the only one reported thus far.

The hospital expects to start vaccinating its health care workers tomorrow.