Biloxi VA prepares for Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrival

With COVID-19 cases surging across the nation, anticipation for the distribution of vaccines is rising.

The Moderna vaccine was scheduled to arrive at the Biloxi VA Hospital Monday morning with the first vaccine being administered Tuesday.

However, the VA was notified early Monday morning that the shipment of the vaccine would not arrive on the Coast until Wednesday.

Despite the last-minute change, the VA has a thorough plan set in place for when the vaccine does arrive.

Eighteen hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to make its way to the VA hospital which will first be distributed to the frontline healthcare workers and then the remaining doses will be administered to their long-term care residents.

In preparation for the arrival of the vaccine, the VA has converted a conference room into a medical center for receiving the shots. Biloxi VA Hospital Associate Director of Patient Care Services Dr. Christopher Saslo said, “From a facility standpoint, we’re extremely well prepared to receive the vaccine. But until you actually have that first opportunity to be vaccinating our staff and our patients that everything is up in question and we don’t want to miss an opportunity to get it right the first time, so that the people who are getting the vaccine get the best benefit from it.”

Timing is crucial with the Moderna vaccine. Once the vial has been punctured, medical professionals need to give the drug to the patient within six hours. There will be timers at each vaccination station to make sure patients wait a full 15 minutes after getting the vaccine before they leave. “So, for the first 15 minutes after each person gets the vaccine, we have to make sure we monitor them for any of the side effects, which can be as simple as developing some redness at the injection site, all the way up to severe reactions to it, which we have to be prepared for.”

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the storage requirements of the Moderna vaccine are much easier for most facilities to accommodate. “The Moderna stores at minus 20 degrees Celsius, which means it can be kept in what most people commonly think of as a common household freezer.”

Last week, Singing River Health System received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccines and began administering the drug to frontline healthcare workers as a part of phase 1A of distribution. Singing River Health System Media Relations Director Sarah Duffey said, “The vaccination of first round, the frontline employees have been going extremely well. We’ve been able to schedule them efficiently so we can get as many done as quickly as possible.”

Pfizer will ship Singing River their second round of the vaccine to complete phase 1A once all the health system’s doses are issued.

For now, Singing River does not know if they will eventually receive the Moderna vaccine. “Later on in January or 2021, we may receive the Moderna. It depends on how much is allocated to the state.”

The first Moderna vaccination at the Biloxi Veterans Hospital is scheduled to be given on Monday, December 28th at 10 a.m. Singing River is expecting to receive their second round of the Pfizer vaccine January 5th.

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