PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area Hospital recently received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to begin distributing to staff members and other area first responders, marking a major milestone for the area’s fight against the coronavirus.
The hospital reported it had received the first shipment of the vaccine on Dec. 24, and began offering it to the hospital employees. The staff has been working diligently to administer the vaccine through the guidance of the Center for Disease Control and Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“The distribution of the vaccine comes with logistical challenges with its management but the hope it brings far outweighs any of these challenges.” said Thomas Moore, pharmacist at the hospital
The Moderna vaccine has specific preparation, storage and implementation requirements, of which are completed with dose one then repeated 28 days later with dose two.
A COVID-19 Vaccine Team was assembled at the hospital months ago, consisting of pharmacists, a nurse educator, a disaster preparedness officer, a patient safety officer, an infection preventionist, physicians, nurses and administration.
“The goal of the team was to be prepared for whichever vaccine we were to receive. There is a great deal of education that comes with the entire process. Each vaccine has different requirements for storage, doses per vial, and numerous other imperative differences. The tasks included everything from planning for receiving the vaccine, storage, administering, reporting, and following all the guidelines for this process that are determined by the PA Department of Health and CDC,” said Katie Donald, the hospital’s public relations specialist and member of the Vaccination Planning Team.
The requirements have made the general management of the vaccine difficult at times. Each vial has to be stored at a certain temperature and defrosted for a certain amount of a time at a different temperature. Each vial also contains a certain number of doses, and once a vial is open, there is a specific timeframe it must be used by.
The CDC and DOH have created a tier system that all hospitals are following to implement the vaccine.
“We are focused on patient safety and optimal stewardship of the vaccines. We realize this task is vital to ending the pandemic. The team meets daily to plan, review, and implement,” Donald said.
Since receiving the vaccine, the hospital has also administered it to the local fire departments, first responders, EMS, law enforcement, and other medical professionals in the Punxsutawney community.
There is not a definite timeline as to when the general public will be offered the vaccine, but the hospital is committed to supporting the community.
“There have been happy tears. The vaccine process has been a long time in the making, this positive progression in the pandemic gives first responders a glimmer of hope for a return to ‘normalcy’ one day. We have seen many emotional frontline workers who have seen firsthand the impact of COVID-19 on our community. We have heard from many of our community partners who believe this is a ‘gift’ and appreciate the recognition of their important role in community health,” Donald said.
The hospital continues to work on vaccinating Tier 1A category of the CDC guidelines, and assessing the next steps in conjunction with the predetermined list from the DOH.
“As we continue to administer the vaccine to the Tier 1A recipients, all hospital staffs’ are tired and stressed. Every activity including vaccines and a commitment from our community to wear masks and social distance sends a message: we are all working together to eliminate the spread,” Donald said.