Bay Area medical providers prepare for vaccine storage, distribution

Healthcare workers and long-term care residents should be the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to vaccine advisors for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Members on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13 to 1 to approve recommendations that prioritize healthcare workers and the elderly in nursing homes to receive the first round of doses in Phase 1a, due to healthcare workers’ proximity to the virus and the disproportionate death rate in nursing homes.

The recommendations will now go the CDC director for final approval.

“We would all like to know more. But there comes a time when we go through a process, we evaluate every bit of information we have access to, and then we need to act,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a member of ACIP.

The rushed timeline and potential side effects came up as a concern for citizens who weighed in through public comment.

MORE: Florida's 1-million COVID-19 cases: How we got here and where we're going

COVID-19 long-haulers search for answers as symptoms persist

A significant number of COVID-19 patients are dealing with symptoms long after their initial infection. They test negative for the virus, yet weeks to months later are still experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness or concentration difficulties.

Early data from Pfizer and Moderna suggests the shot is safe and highly effective.

The Food and Drug Administration must still approve the vaccine for emergency use before it can be distributed. Once that happens, states can use the CDC’s recommendations to guide them. Florida has a draft vaccination distribution plan that aligns with their suggestions.

In the meantime, doctors are getting ready.

“We’ve been working on a list of physicians, providers, advanced practitioners, nurses, etc., on who we believe could be most at risk,” said Dr. Doug Ross, the chief medical officer at AdventHealth Tampa.

Tampa Bay’s major hospitals like Tampa General and AdventHealth are also preparing freezers to store the shipments.

“We also are going to be able to manufacture our own dry ice so that when we move the vaccine around both within our own system or even within our own hospital, that we keep it at that really cold temperature,” said Ross.

So if you don’t fall in the first group, you will have to wait your turn. The vaccine will initially be in short supply.

“A lot of people want it and there are certain people who are waiting and seeing how everyone reacts to the vaccine. But we are really not going to have enough vaccine, at least not in this year to even start vaccinating the general public,” said Ross.

The vaccine will be shipped out and given to everyone in four phases, beginning with Phase 1a, 1b and 1c. The CDC advisory committee said they plan to keep track of how people are doing once they get the shots, so they can note any major side effects.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

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