Questions remain as first shipment of vaccine arrives

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It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that Kingston Health Sciences Centre knew for certain that the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be arriving, and, a few hours later, the first group of long-term care workers had been inoculated.

“It arrived at the hospital around 10:30 (a.m.),” KHSC CEO and president Dr. David Pichora said Tuesday evening, ”and we administered the first dose at 2:30. That’s a very quick turnaround. Yesterday, we weren’t certain it was arriving today.”

The hospital has been allocated 1,900 doses per week for the first three weeks, he said.

“We’re waiting to hear for subsequent weeks,” Pichora said. “We’re very hopeful that the allocation will go up. We know that there’s not enough vaccine to go around, but we’d like to see more come our way so that we can keep doing first doses as we’re having to do second doses.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses to be fully effective, and the second dose needs to be administered within three weeks of the first.

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While Pichora has known for a while how much vaccine they would be sent for the first three weeks, he’s still waiting to hear about subsequent shipments.

“If I had some certainty what was coming in weeks 4, 5 and 6, then we would feel a lot more confident not holding back any vaccine for second doses,” Pichora said.

“We would like to be able to (administer) all of those three allocations as first doses.”

While just 75 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered Tuesday afternoon at the appointment-only clinic located inside Kingston General Hospital, that number will rise significantly in the coming days.

“The target on a daily basis is several hundred,” Pichora said.

The number of people being inoculated at the clinic each day may dip once plans are finalized to take the vaccine administration on the road to different areas within southeastern Ontario.

“We know from other areas of the province that have been at this for a little while that it’s easier to schedule and less refusals for staff and obviously residents, too, when you can go mobile and administer the vaccine in their workplace and they don’t have to get transportation to a clinic and they don’t have to do it in their off-work hours, and that kind of stuff,” Pichora explained.

“There’s definitely going to be a balance point, or a sweet spot. We have to figure out what that is.”

KHSC has been working with public health agencies in southeastern Ontario to come up with a vaccination rollout plan.

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“This is a partnership, and we’re like the custodians of the vaccine,” Pichora said of KHSC’s role. “They’re in charge of administration. That’s what public health does.”

Tuesday’s arrival of the first batch of vaccines was exciting, Pichora agreed, and a “ray of hope.”

“It’s exciting for different people in different ways,” he said.

“It’s exciting for all of the people who live in southeastern Ontario because, you know, the vaccines are a source of hope. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, although the tunnel still looks fairly long.”

Rolling out a vaccine is a complicated task, Pichora continued, and requires a great deal of organization and co-ordination between different groups.

“There’s security, there’s IT support, there’s data management, registration, all of the pharmacy requirements with Pfizer. It’s not a simple undertaking, and it’s taken the work of a lot of people, including partnerships with the three public health units to figure out who goes first, who goes next, and where we go geographically,” he said. “It’s exciting for everybody.”

phendra@postmedia.com

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