Workers move the ultra-low temperature freezer at the Berkshire Innovation Center for deliver to BMC on Wednesday. The freezer is need for storing the vaccine.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Medical Center is one of 21 hospitals selected to begin receiving the novel coronavirus vaccine this month.
Director of Media Relations Michael Leary on Wednesday said the hospital is scheduling potential vaccine distribution for frontline workers, which will be dependent on the number of doses that arrive. BMC is expecting to get at least one of the batches, which yields 975 doses.
With Berkshire Health Systems having about 4,000 employees, those who have the most contact with direct patient care would be prioritized for distribution. This includes employees from Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, and physician practices.
This could also include workers who don't work with COVID-19 patients hands-on but have contact with them, such as case managers who prepare discharge plans.
"We might not just be talking about the doctors and nurses who are providing direct care," Leary said. "There could be any number of other employees who would be eligible to receive the vaccine in the initial phase."
The state is expected to receive 300,000 doses by the end of December of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The first shipment of 59,475 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered Friday and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals across eight counties beginning Dec. 15. Once the vaccine supplies begin to arrive, the distribution chain will expand to another 74 hospitals and then the Federal Pharmacy Program.
The hospitals selected at first to accept the Pfizer vaccine had to be able to store it at minus-70 degrees Celsius, by procuring dry ice or having an ultra-cold storage system. They also had to have capacity to move quickly to administer 975 doses.
The Berkshire Innovation Center had an American BioTech U-86 ultra-low temperature freezer that was packed up Wednesday morning and delivered to BMC.
"We are grateful to be able to help this in a small way," BIC Executive Director Benjamin Sosne wrote to iBerkshires. "As you know, minus-80 C freezers needed to store the vaccine are in short supply these days. This morning ours was packed up and sent to our friends at Berkshire Medical Center. Great to know the first vaccines will be stored in our freezer."
Leary said BMC recognizes that this is a limited response and the vaccine will need to be used as quickly as possible because of its five-day shelf life under regular cold conditions.
Because the vaccine comes in batches of 975 doses, Leary said they will need to be used quickly. BMC would plan on vaccinating up to 975 employees who have the most contact with COVID-19 during the first dose and then would move down the list in health-care workers depending on the numbers of vaccinations they are seeing.
Baker and state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders had stated at Wednesday's press conference that "health-care workers" included clinical and non-clinical (so case managers, dietary employees, housekeeping as wells nurses and doctors) with the priority on those in most contact with COVID-19 first.
Leary said, that according to the governor's release, the first vaccines are planned to be distributed to a majority of the state's hospitals by early next week. At the state level, the first batch is aimed to arrive Thursday.
If BMC receives 975 doses by Monday, it would do its best to vaccinate 975 employees as quickly as possible, he said, and would repeat that process if it received another batch later in the week.
BMC was able to efficiently able to vaccinate all employees for influenza, which was made mandatory by the state, within a short period of time over about a four- to six-week period, he said. Because of this, the hospital is hopeful that it will be able to quickly vaccinate willing employees with the Pfizer vaccine, as it is not mandatory.
Through an employee survey, BMC is trying to get a sense of who would be willing to take the vaccine and who would be reluctant. Because this survey was distributed Tuesday, Leary said it is too soon to know what the general consensus, but BMC hopes that a majority of employees will favor the vaccine.
Editor's note: information on the freezer added at 9:11 p.m.
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