Fairbanks Hospital and Tanana Chiefs Get Vaccine

Dec 17, 2020

The first 975 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are opened at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Credit Foundation Health Partners

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and Tanana Chiefs Conference both received their first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday (Wednesday.) The hospital plans to start vaccinating employees today. And TCC plans to begin shots for village health workers and vulnerable elders as soon as logistics can be worked out.

The community hospital in Fairbanks got it’s package about 10:30 yesterday morning. Dr. Angelique Ramirez, Chief Medical Officer for Foundation Health Partners, says the 975 doses will be used to vaccinate hospital staff at greatest risk for exposure to COVID-19 and those who are caring for patients with the disease.

“This is the beginning of the end. And I will tell you I’m so excited, this is one of the first times I’m actually able to offer something to people that will actually protect them and make things better.”

Maria Terch, FMH Pharmacy Tech Manager and Jody Starkey, FMH Lab Blood Bank Supervisor check details of the shipment.
Credit Foundation Health Partners

In line for vaccinations are FHP employees at Denali Center, the long-term care facility.

”It has been a challenging year and throughout the year, we have been asking more and more of our health care workers, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and this pandemic.”

975 doses won’t get very far among Fairbanks first responders, but more is coming.

“Because it is a new vaccine, it had to be manufactured. It is starting with very small quantities,” said FHP Chief Medical Officer Angelique Ramirez. “It is a scarce resource, so we have been following national guidance. The Centers for Disease Control established priorities as to who should receive the vaccine first and the State of Alaska provided guidance on how to best utilize it to protect our community.”

As you’ve been hearing, the temperature demands of the vaccine are a challenge for many hospitals, however Fairbanks Memorial Hospital already had a Siberian UltraCold Freezer.

FMH Lab Blood Bank Supervisor, Jody Starkey, loads the cooler at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Credit Foundation Health Partners

The vaccine vials are packed in flat boxes about the size of a small pizza box, each of which holds 195 vials. As many as five are stacked together in a reusable, insulated cardboard box that is topped with 50 pounds of dry ice. The dry ice keeps the vaccine at a temperature of -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius) for up to five days.

That will help a lot when getting shots out to Interior villages. Tanana Chiefs Conference serves more than 40 tribal communities, and picked up a shipment of 450 doses of Pfizer vaccine last night.

“We picked it up at the airport and brought it back to the freezer.”

Dr. Alisa Alexander says TCC bought it’s own ultra-cold freezer in anticipation of distributing vaccine.

“So we are able to function as a mini-depot for other partners in the area.”

Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center is the primary clinic for Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks, seen here in April, 2020. TCC does not yet have enough doses of COVID-19 vaccine to distribute in Fairbanks, yet.
Credit Robyne / KUAC

Pfizer has put GPS-enabled thermal sensors in each shipment too make sure it stayed cold in transit. But few other places in Alaska have the ultra-cold freezers, so technicians preparing the vaccine are going to make sure it stays stable and potent as it is distributed, village by village.

“We have a lot of logistics to figure out with shipping it out to all of our villages. According to the priorities that were laid out at the federal guidelines and the state guidelines, we’re getting it out to our villages first to get our health aides vaccinated, our high-risk elders and we have some assisted living facilities in a couple of our communities so the residents and staff in those facilities will get vaccinated first.”

Dr. Alexander says only a handful of vaccinators in Fairbanks will get their own doses in this round. With only 450 doses, they want as much of it as possible to go to the villages.