RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As the race for a COVD-19 vaccine continues, local hospitals are preparing their facilites for distribution. VCU Health told 8News the medical center is taking steps to secure and distribute vital doses to Virginia residents.
Although no vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, clinical trials are showing high success rates prompting hospitals to get ready.
COVID-19 cases are soaring nation-wide and Virginia is no exception; the state is currently experiencing an increase in positive cases.
“We here at VCU have probably seen maybe a 10 to 20 percent increase over the last month or so,” said Dr. David Lanning, VCU Health’s Interim Chief Medical Officer.
Dr. Lanning said VCU has no shortage of hospital beds at this time and shares that the majority of new cases are coming from younger folks. He said people aged 20-29 are having the highest infection rates and that’s dangerous because many are asymptomatic and likely to spread the virus to older people who may be at risk.
Dr. Lanning also shares that ER visits at VCU Health have recently increased, but hospitalizations have not.
As Interim Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Lanning has kept a close eye on the numbers and is tasked with planning VCU Health’s COVID-19 response plan, which now includes vaccine distribution.
“We are positioning ourselves to be able to receive the vaccine and be able to store it properly and correctly,” Dr. Lanning said.
He goes on to say that about a week ago, VCU Health submitted an application to receive doses of a potentially life-saving injection, if and when one becomes available.
As of Wednesday evening, clinical trials are still happening, but pharmaceutical company, Pfzier, is claiming to have reached a 95% success rate and biotechnology company, Moderna, is not far behind. However, a possible challenge for hospitals is storage. Vaccines must be kept in a freezer that reaches 94 degrees below zero, which not all facilities are equipped with.
“It’s a really deep freezer, so we are making sure we have that capacity,” Dr. Lanning said. “We have a number of freezers already, but I think we will be obtaining another one just to make sure we have the capacity.”
Dr. Lanning said aside from securing storage for the vaccine, VCU Health is currently creating a special coronavirus task force to ensure distribution is fair.
“We are putting together a group of folks that have broad representation from in-house as well as outside,” he said. “We are going to connect with some of our community folks to make sure we are thoughtful and fair.”
Fair in a sense of who will get the vaccine first, as doses will be limited until supply meets the global demand. Dr. Lanning said it will likely be healthcare workers and vulnerable patients who get the first doses, however the VCU Health task force will be establishing guidelines while leaning on recommendations from the CDC.
Dr. Lanning said he is encouraged by the current clinical trials and VCU Health will be ready to distribute vaccines when the time comes. He also wants people to know that even if the medical facility does get thousands of doses, it will take time to see the response many are hoping for, which is numbers going down and hopefully the virus eradicated.
Pfzier is expected to apply for emergency authorization within the coming days and if approved the medical company says it could produce 50 million doses by the end of this year.
However, while Virginians wait for a vaccine Dr. Lanning is warning people to be vigilant over the holidays. He said part of the spike in cases is that people are tired of the virus and simply letting their guards down.
As a friendly reminder, Dr. Lanning and most health professionals are telling folks to keep social distancing, wearing their masks, washing their hands, and consider small or virtual holiday gatherings this year.
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