By Patrick Forrest
Community Hospital is one of five healthcare facilities in Indiana to receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine next month, according to Indiana State Department of Health officials. The announcement comes as the nation and Northwest Indiana prepare for a Thanksgiving likely to be unlike any other, with the Centers for Disease Control recommending that Americans not travel to see family physically, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads uncontrolled in nearly every area of the country.
Community Hospital was chosen as a pilot site based on its ability to store the first doses from Pfizer at super subzero cold temperatures reaching -60 to -80 degrees Celsius.
In accordance with federal and state guidelines, initial supplies of vaccines are reserved for frontline workers including healthcare workers, first responders and those at highest risk. A vaccine more widely available to the general public is still a few months away.
“Since 2012, CDC has worked extensively with pharmacies to improve pandemic preparedness, conduct vaccine throughput exercises, and assess store and organizational response capabilities,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said. “Through these partnerships, we will leverage established relationships to support our critical public health mission of vaccinating the American public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
In addition to Community Hospital, Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, CVS, Meijer and Walmart locations will all receive direct allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is approved for use in the United States. Each of these locations has agreed to distribute the vaccine, which will be received from the Federal government, free of charge.
“We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”
The stated goal will be to make the vaccine, once deemed to be safe, as convenient and available for mass distribution as possible.
“Throughout this pandemic our pharmacy teams have been on the front lines, offering care and health solutions for our communities,” said Mike Withers, president of Jewel-Osco, which has locations in Munster, Dyer, Crown Point and Chesterton. “When a vaccine is ready our pharmacists will play a critical role in administering this important public health service.”
With availability showing that it should not be an issue locally, some medical experts are pushing for officials to be more transparent about the possible side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association noted that both Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals and voiced concerns that some may not return for a second dose if they feel side effects following the first.
“We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,” Fryhofer said during a virtual meeting with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of medical experts that advises the CDC.
“They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”
For more information about COVID-19 precautions and safeguards at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System: Community Hospital, Munster; St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center, Hobart; and specialty hospital Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center, Crown Point, visit https://www.COMHS.org/coronavirus.