Friday night, the FDA approved Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, the first in the country to get emergency authorization for use in battling the pandemic.
Vials of the vaccine could be delivered to pre-designated sites across the Bay Area as soon as overnight Sunday, according to the Office of Emergency Services.
The Department of Defense announced earlier Friday the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto will be one of 37 VA medical facilities to get the first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine. All of the doses will go to doctors and nurses who work there.
“327,600 doses now are being shipped in real time to the state of California,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in a video statement posted to Twitter not long after the FDA approved the vaccine.
“They’ll use FedEx and UPS. They drop-ship through a very tightly controlled system to the 636 sites our governors have designated for this initial tranche,” said Alex Azar, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary.
It’s a massive logistical operation. UPS said the process has already started. They’ve been shipping vaccine kits with necessary supplies like syringes. The next step is delivering the vaccine itself then sending dry ice to sites that don’t have the ability to store the vials at the required extremely cold temperature.
“Other times … we’ve had freezers or refrigerators that don’t work we can replace the drug. In this case, we can’t,” said Vivian Leonard, the pharmacy director for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Adding to the complexity is the fact hospitals will only open the shipments twice a day. They’ll have three minutes to confirm the dose count then the vaccine must be stored.
Frontline medical workers across the Bay Area could start getting the vaccine as early as Monday. According to UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford, it couldn’t come at a better time.
“We’re still experiencing the spike from Thanksgiving. We haven’t been able to turn the corner on it yet. Hospitals are closing because the ICUs are filled,” Dr. Rutherford said.
None of the vaccines being shipped to the Bay Area this week will be available to the general public. All are going to frontline health care workers first. A full national rollout is expected sometime next spring or early summer.