Illinois Hospitals Prepare For Arrival of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine

One hospital paid up to $15,000 for a freezer to store the vaccine

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Hospitals across Illinois have been preparing for weeks now for the rollout of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our hospital is prepared as it can be,” said Dr. Chris Udovich, chief medical officer at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lennox.

“We’re very confident that we have a good plan in place,” said Mark Steadham, president and CEO of Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers.

“We’re ready for it,” said Dr. Michael Kelleher, chief medical officer at AMITA Health Mercy Medical Center in Aurora.

Kelleher estimates that at least 6,000 frontline workers across AMITA Health will need to be vaccinated. But the question now is how many doses will they get from the federal government.

“We don’t know what our allocation is going to be and that’s complicated our planning a bit,” said Kelleher. “The last number I heard the state of Illinois would allocate 80,000 doses initially, but I don’t think we’ll really know that number is for sure until the Illinois Department of Public Health gives us further guidance on that.”

“We’re trying to make plans that go from anywhere if we get 100 to 200 vaccines, up to 5,000, so we’re really trying to build in some flexibility within that plan,” said Udovich.  

The Pfizer vaccine will require two doses, the company said. Each vial contains about five doses when diluted and must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius.

“The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra cold storage, which many hospitals do not have the capability to do,” said Kelleher.

AMITA Health currently has one ultra cold freezer at a hospital in Chicago and is awaiting the shipment of another one next week. Morris Hospital and Healthcare Center said it cost them around $15,000. Silver Cross Hospital in New Lennox paid around $8,000.

“We placed an order and it’s supposed to come in later this week and I hope that it does,” said Udovich.

Some hospitals said they plan to have the freezers up and running ahead of the shipment of the vaccine. Udovich said another part of their plan is how to safely handle the vaccine.

“How quickly can you take it out of the freezer when you need to mix it and how long can you keep it there before you give it?” Udovich said. “So you don’t want to drop 1,000 vials and have them sit there for two days because that’s outside the time limit that you can give it.”

All three hospital representatives told NBC they will adjust their plan as needed to follow guidance and any new information they receive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and IDPH.

“I think we have a good handle on this and we have a good team,” said Udovich. “We’re all coordinating with other health systems in the area for the best practices.”

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