Monadnock Community Hospital officials said the Phase I distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine will likely reach the facility within the next couple of weeks.
MCH President and CEO Cyndee McGuire said the first phase of the vaccine rollout is earmarked for high-risk frontline healthcare workers providing direct patient care, first responders, and adults living in long term care facilities. In conjunction with the State of NH and the CDC, McGuire said the hospital administration was asked to identify staff members who meet the requirements for the initial distribution of the vaccine. McGuire said that approximately 230 employees of the Peterborough-based hospital, including those in the Emergency Department, inpatient Medical Unit, Birthing Suite, Oncology, physician practices, lab, and radiology – anyone who are giving direct clinical care.
“My understanding is that the vaccine will be at no cost to the hospital or to the patient,” McGuire said. “That streamlines things a lot more.”
MCH has approximately the equivalent of 500 full-time employees, and eventually the plan will be to offer the remaining number of employees the opportunity to be vaccinated as more of it becomes available. McGuire said it’s not a guarantee that all 230 employees will get the vaccine in the first distribution. She said her understanding is the state will receive a certain number of doses of the vaccine and then distribute to facilities based on a formula.
“It’s likely we won’t get all those employees vaccinated in the first round,” McGuire said.
While the vaccine will not be mandatory for hospital employees, Laura Gingras, Vice President of Philanthropy and Community Relations, said they recently held a virtual employee education forum to provide the information the hospital currently had available on the vaccine and to answer questions.
“This is what we have in front of us and we are anticipating moving forward,” McGuire said. “We need to get a handle on this.”
The vaccine will be administered by hospital staff, just like any other vaccine Chief Medical Officer Michael Lindberg said, and won’t require any special equipment, training or deep freeze storage units to meet the storage temperature for the vaccine of -80 degrees Celsius.
“When we get it, we have five days to use it before it expires,” Lindberg said. Once a vial, containing five doses each, is opened, Lindberg said they have six hours to administer it. “We definitely do not want to waste doses,” he said.
From what Lindberg understands, he believes MCH will receive the Pfizer vaccine “but we don’t know that definitively yet,” he said. The vaccine will come packed in dry ice as “most hospitals do not have refrigeration that will hold something that cold,” Lindberg said.
Lindberg said that the vaccine requires two doses to get an immune response and they must be administered 21 days apart. An internal vaccine preparation team has been working on a plan for MCH for the past two months, McGuire said.
“We will make sure the people who get the first dose are scheduled 21 days later,” Lindberg said. In the case they have more doses than what is needed for Phase I, he said they will find someone in the next tier to receive it.
The vaccine is the first step in protecting employees of the hospital, but personal protective equipment protocols will not change, McGuire said. Lindberg cited that the vaccine trials have produced a 94 percent efficacy rate, but there are still unknowns around it, like if a vaccinated person can still carry the virus.
“We want to make sure every safety measure remains in place for our staff and patients,” McGuire said.
McGuire said the imminent distribution of the vaccine provides a sense of relief and it “will help shore up the healthcare services,” she said, but they are still bracing themselves as the number of positive coronavirus tests climb in the state with the potential for more with holiday gatherings coming up.
To that end, the hospital continues to push the message of wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining a safe six foot distance and avoid gatherings.
“We still have a lot of social responsibility,” Lindberg said.
McGuire said she has not been made aware of when the second round of distribution will be made available for more employees. She said to her knowledge, administering the vaccine to first responders and nursing home staff and residents will not be done at the hospital.
While there is no indication when the vaccine will become available to the general public, Lindberg said the conversation has been focused on the spring of 2021. It all depends on how fast the current vaccines and newer ones set to be available can be produced, he said. In the meantime, they have been discussing what the process would look like for administering it on a wider scale, Lindberg said.
“This is a phased process and the timeline is a bit of a moving target,” McGuire said.
“It depends on how quickly pharmaceutical firms can produce it and safely distribute it,” Lindberg said.
McGuire said while it has been a long nine months, the employees of MCH continue to be a guiding light.
“These folks have been working a tremendous amount of hours, lots of extra time has been involved and they’re staying the course to get us through this next wave,” she said.
As numbers in the state and Hillsborough County grow, with 807 positive tests announced on Tuesday, just one day after NH reported more than 1,000 new cases for the first time since the pandemic began, Gingras said hospital officials meet daily, sometimes twice a day, to discuss the current state of COVID-19.
Hospitals around the state are feeling the effects of COVID-19 admissions, McGuire said, but “so far we haven’t seen any type of inpatient surge,” she said. She added the partnership with Catholic Medical Center to take inpatient COVID-19 patients from MCH remains in place as of now.