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Published on December 17, 2020

Time, temp and treatment: CCHC Pharmacy treats COVID-19 vaccine precisely

COVID Pharmacy

As the first vaccines were administered on Cape Cod, Cape Cod Healthcare director of hospital and ambulatory pharmacy Jim Mangan, RPh, MBA, stood by, quietly monitoring its distribution to the first people who received it.

Mangan was part of a CCHC team that acted with foresight to procure a vaccine as soon as it was ready. Now the vaccine is here.

“We’ve been working on this for months, planning for what was out there,” he said.

Anticipating the logistical needs of accepting, storing and preparing the Pfizer vaccine were among the tasks set before a group of administrators, including Mangan.

“Two-to-three months ago, we were thinking about freezers,” he said. Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital are some of the “few and far between” sites that invested in this critical equipment. Ultra-low freezers hold a temperature between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius, the temperature needed to store the Pfizer vaccine.

“We were so lucky the administration supported what may have seemed like a far-fetched idea,” he said. Because CCHC has these freezers, it received quantities of vaccine that are “on-par with larger hospitals.”

The complicated preparation for the vaccine included timing, temperature and treatment of the vaccine to make it ready for use.

The Pfizer shipment arrives in small boxes, not much larger than a ream of paper, that is surrounded by dry ice. It’s then transferred to ultra-low freezers at CCH and FH.

Before it can be prepped for use, it has to thaw in a refrigerator for three hours, after which it can remain refrigerated for up to five days. The vaccine is then mixed with preservative-free saline and drawn into vials. Once mixed and labelled, it is good for only six hours.

While the Occupational Health team prepares to administer the vaccine, it’s stored in refrigerators along with bottled waters labelled “Do Not Drink.” These bottles are chilled to provide “thermal mass” to preserve the necessary temperature even when the refrigerator is opened and closed during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Mangan praised CCHC pharmacists and pharmacy technicians for problem-solving the process of managing the needs of the new vaccine.

“They all said, ‘tell me where you need me, and we’ll get it done.”