Vaccines imminent for health care workers, patients in long-term facilities

Dec 11, 2020

This phase of distribution is limited to health care workers, and patients and employees of long-term care facilities. In future phases, individual providers, pharmacies and the state will administer the virus to a larger portion of the population.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

If all goes according to plan, Chris Beaudoin will get the first of his two COVID-19 vaccine doses next week. As a hospitalist at Central Peninsula Hospital who sees multiple coronavirus patients each day, he’s part of the batch of healthcare workers and eldercare residents who will get inoculated in the first phase of vaccine distribution.

“For me, it means that there’s light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "For us as workers in the hospital, it means that we’re less likely to contract the disease and pass it on to other patients.”

A shipment of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine is slated to get to the central peninsula between Wednesday and Friday of next week. The vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the FDA tonight.

Central Peninsula Hospital will receive some of that supply to vaccinate health care workers.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy will receive another portion, to vaccinate long-term care patients and employees at Heritage Place and Riverside Assisted Living in Soldotna and CharisPlace in Kenai.

Justin Ruffridge, who co-owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, said they’re hoping to get vaccines into those facilities by Christmas.

“Everything is sort of flying by the seat of your pants, a little bit," he said. "So, I’ve sent out notices to the area long-term care facilities and things like that, just saying, ‘Let’s start to get a number, and start getting consent forms.’”

Senior facilities have been disproportionately affected by the spread of the virus. An outbreak at Heritage Place, which is operated by the hospital, killed two residents.

Eleven Heritage Place residents and four staff members are currently positive for the virus, according to CPH spokesman Bruce Richards.

Ruffridge says they’re still figuring out how many vaccines they’ll give and whether they’ll vaccinate the 27 residents who have already recovered from the virus.

Alaska is getting approximately 35,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first shipment to the state. Since each person is vaccinated twice, about 17,500 Alaskans could be vaccinated with that first batch.

It’s unclear how much of that will go to the peninsula. Each individual cooler contains 975 doses.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy has been planning for the arrival of the vaccine for a while. But Ruffridge said he’s relatively confident it will come next week.

After that, they’re expecting one shipment a month from the state of Alaska.

Doses of vaccine will arrive five to a vial, in containers packed with dry ice pellets. Once here, it can be stored at minus 95 degrees Fahrenheit in a hospital freezer.

Alongside thousands of other health care professionals nationwide, Ruffridge has been attending Pfizer’s virtual trainings on the vaccine. He learned that the cases containing vaccine are outfitted with GPS and temperature trackers, so the company can alert facilities if their coolers aren’t sufficiently cold.

The vaccine itself is relatively straightforward and can be administered quickly, he said. Though staff will need to take more precautions.

“One of the greatest things we have to think about is, a lot of these places have been kind of locked down or quarantined for a while," he said. "How do we prevent bringing something in that we don’t know about? So I think there’s some caution that we’re going to be taking as far as equipment and PPE, probably doing some testing prior to going in there, and then making sure that things are organized so that our time spent in each facility is as minimal as possible.”

Richards estimated the hospital will start out by vaccinating 50 health care workers a day late next week.

This first phase of the vaccine is reserved for health care workers and patients and employees at long-term care facilities only. Vaccines will likely become available to a broader swath of the population in 2021.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine Alaska will receive this month. It is estimated to receive 35,000 doses.