The recent announcement that COVID-19 vaccines would be available by mid-December is the positive news we all need right now. While the battle against the pandemic is far from over, relief is in sight.
“Planning and preparation is crucial for the success of our COVID-19 immunization plan,” said Andrew Will, Vice President Infrastructure, Information and Support for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). “From the vaccine manufacturers through to multiple levels of government and every part of the SHA, collaboration is key to our collective success. “
From an operational point-of-view that means understanding and preparing for the challenges specific to the vaccine. The first approved COVID-19 vaccine, from Pfizer/BioNTech, must be transported and stored at -70° C, which adds an extra layer of complexity to the vaccine handling, training, and administration. To this end, SHA engaged in a “dry run” at Regina General Hospital (RGH) in preparation for the COVID-19 Vaccination Pilot program starting December 15.
The dry run was intended to not only find areas for improvement, but also as a teaching tool to create and refine processes that can be templated and shared throughout SHA. It helps to refine our processes to maximize speed and efficiency, which are critical in making sure we can effectively distribute and administer the vaccine throughout the province. Though many lessons can be applied from our annual influenza vaccination campaigns, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and similar vaccines in development will carry their own specific storage and handling requirements, resulting in unchartered territory for most on the team.
Working collaboratively, the Vaccine Pilot team and RGH operational team used a mock-vaccine that replicated the packaging and temperature of the actual Pfizer vaccine, which arrives packed in dry ice. From entry to the hospital through to storage of the vaccine, the dry run required multiple teams across multiple divisions to run through the process, evaluate their findings and refine the process.
After completing and reviewing the dry run, the COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot team was able to find opportunities for improvement, to minimize risks and maximize efficiencies that will contribute to the safe delivery and distribution of the first COVID-19 vaccine. Their efforts will become part of the Work Standard that will be used by all facilities throughout the province that will handle the vaccine in the future.
“Collaboration is key to our ongoing success,” said Dr. Tania Diener, Medical Health Officer responsible for the vaccination. “Under short notice multiple teams came together to plan the safe and efficient delivery of this vaccine. Now our initial work can be replicated as the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed throughout the province.”
To learn more about the Pfizer vaccine and the pilot project directed to health care workers, visit the
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored in specialized ultra-cold freezers, as shown in this image.