Madison - SSM Health today took delivery of its first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine following its emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration last week. The shipment of about 6,000 doses is part of an initial statewide allotment from the federal government and will be offered first to vaccinate health care workers at the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Because the COVID-19 vaccines are new and manufacturers cannot immediately produce enough supplies to vaccinate everyone who wants the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health departments have recommended a phased approach to vaccinations with health care workers first to receive them.
“SSM Health is prepared to vaccinate as many of our health care team members as soon as possible to protect them from this deadly disease so they can continue to be able to care for our patients,” Mohammad (Mo) Kharbat, SSM Health Wisconsin vice president of pharmacy dervices and health research, said in a release today.
It is difficult to estimate how long this initial phase of vaccine distribution to frontline health care workers will take as it is dependent on the manufacturers’ ability to release vaccine supplies, the release said. Once health care workers have been vaccinated, the next phase of distribution will expand to include other essential workers and high-risk patients. In a later phase the vaccine will be available to all members of the general public.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be transported and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. It is being shipped in specially-designed, temperature-controlled thermal containers and SSM Health has invested in ultra-low-temperature freezers to safely store the vaccine upon arrival.
“We have made all the necessary arrangements for the specialized handling and preparation required by Pfizer/BioNTech to safely store and prepare this new vaccine so that we can quickly begin to vaccinate our care team members,” Kharbat said. “We do not anticipate any of the COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available to our patients and the general public until Spring 2021 or later. As production of the vaccines increases to the point of being widely available to the public, we will be sure to communicate that information to our patients and the communities we serve."
SSM Health officials said they appreciate the the public is eager to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, but requests that people refrain from calling health care providers or clinics for information to keep phone lines open for patients who are experiencing active symptoms or have acute care needs.
SSM Health patients interested in receiving notification of COVID-19 vaccine availability are encouraged to sign up for an online MyChart account. Signup is available at ssmhealth.com/mychart. To learn more about the vaccine, visit www.ssmhealth.com, or the CDC (cdc.org) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (hhs.gov) web sites.
Until and after COVID-19 vaccines are broadly available, the CDC continues to recommend that people take all the necessary precautions to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19:
- Stay home when you have symptoms
- Do not gather with others outside your immediate household. If you must, wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart
- Practice good hand hygiene, washing for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing thoroughly and rinsing completely.
- The combination of a vaccine and these prevention measures will help us in our eventual return to normal.
SSM Health (www.ssmhealth.com/about) is a Catholic, not-for-profit health system serving the comprehensive health needs of communities across the Midwest. The organization has more than 40,000 employees and physicians.
In Wisconsin, SSM Health employs approximately 14,500 people, serving the south-central part of the state through a community-based network of physicians/providers, and inpatient and outpatient care facilities. The organization has seven hospitals, ten post-acute care facilities, and more than 85 physician offices and other outpatient care sites in the state. SSM Health also serves nearly 398,000 lives through Dean Health Plan, making it one of the largest and most diversified HMOs in the Midwest.