Louisiana prepares for arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, special freezers shipped in

Updated: Dec. 2, 2020 at 6:30 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The first shipments of a coronavirus vaccine make their way to the United States and health systems in Louisiana, like Ochsner, are now preparing for the vaccine.

The first vaccine to make its debut is Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Senator Bill Cassidy, it’s on jets flying to locations to begin to be administered.

Cassidy said the vaccine could arrive to locations this month and possibly before Christmas in the state. The state and state health institutions have been preparing for the drug’s arrival.

Debbie Simonson, Vice President of Pharmacy at Ochsner Health, said she is expecting the shipment from Pfizer to arrive by Dec. 15. Ochsner is one of the centers in the state receiving the vaccines because of the sensitive nature of storing the drug.

“It’s exciting,” said Simonson. “We’ve been working on it for a long time because we know that this is going to save lives once we figure out how to do this and do it right.”

Storing the Pfizer vaccine is very complex, according to Simonson, because the drug needs to be stored at -80 degrees.

“So, we bought subzero freezers for Shreveport, Lafayette and the New Orleans area,” she said.

In addition to the subzero freezers, Ochsner purchased 26 freezers to put in every hospital in preparation for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine once that becomes available. Then purchased refrigerators with standard freezers for all the sites for staging purposes, so the vaccine can be ready for the patient.

“You have to prepare for all of these scenarios because we’re not going to turn down any vaccine yet,” said Simonson.

She said she is hoping to turn the vaccine around within 24 hours of its arrival, but how it’s administered will be up to the state. Cassidy mentioned the first round of vaccines will most likely be those working in the medical field.

“First vaccinate the frontline workers: nurses, doctors, clerks, janitors etc., and then vaccinate those who are at nursing homes,” said Cassidy.

At Ochsner, Simonson said they want to make sure these vaccinations are used appropriately.

“This is what’s going to save lives,” she said. “This is what’s going to get us out of the pandemic we’re in now.”

Simonson said she’s confident with the plans the health system has in place before the drug’s arrival but hopes the rest of the population can be patient when it comes to receiving the vaccine, which most likely won’t be until the Spring of 2021 at the earliest.

“With this vaccine, we need to treat the vaccine very special and make sure we don’t waste one dose.”

The COVID-19 vaccines will be administered in a “phased approach,” according to Simonson and the Ochsner group.

Ochsner Health wants to remind the public that just because the vaccine is on its way, does not mean it is time to let your guard down. Communities must continue to follow safety guidelines when it comes to the coronavirus to keep case numbers down and people out of the hospitals.

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