Dr. Marc Kutler, Northwestern Medical Center, COVID-19 vaccine, 12-16-2020

Dr. Marc Kutler, from Northwestern Medical Center’s Emergency Department, was among the first at the St. Albans hospital to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

ST. ALBANS — According to state officials, Vermont is seventh in the nation for prevalence of vaccine distribution. This accomplishment comes despite significant logistical, operational and scheduling challenges hospitals have encountered.

“Vermont has done a great job dealing with a complex process that is rapidly and constantly changing. It has been a challenge, but I’m proud of our team that came together so quickly to be able to tackle this. We’ve now vaccinated well over 1,000 people in just four weeks – that’s remarkable,” said Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) Chief Medical and Quality Officer Dr. John Minadeo.

The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS), which represents all of Vermont’s 14 nonprofit hospitals, has been working in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) and community providers to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to Vermonters identified in the state’s plan as qualifying for the first phase of Vermont’s vaccination effort. More than 17 million doses have been distributed across the country, with just under 34,000 coming to Vermont so far.

As of Jan. 5, Vermont hospitals have administered the first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines to more than 17,700 Vermonters. This number does not take into account clinics that are scheduled in the coming days, which means the amount of administered and scheduled vaccination is likely much closer to the 34,000 vaccines Vermont received.

“It is hard to understate the complexity of this undertaking given all of the other COVID-19-related demands, but our hospitals are rising to the challenges they face every day and getting this important work done,” said Jeff Tieman, president and CEO of VAHHS. “We appreciate the partnership from the State and community providers as we follow the plan outlined by the federal government and VDH. We have a population that is eager to be vaccinated and we’ll need ongoing patience and support to continue making progress.”

Delays and shortages of vaccines have added to the already intricate process. Hospitals have routinely experienced delays in the arrival of doses, requiring clinics to be rescheduled, according to VAHHS. Reduced numbers of doses also add to the challenge.

Last week, the state received approximately 7,800 doses instead of the more than 11,000 allocated. That means hospitals received just under half, or 3,900, of the 8,000 doses they were expecting, according to VAHHS.

Conversely, in some instances there are more doses than expected in a vial and hospitals must rush to find a vaccine candidate before the dose expires in a matter of hours, hospital association officials say.

NMC Pharmacy Manager Jess Aboelezz has been integral in managing the hospital’s Vaccination Clinic and doses of the vaccine.

“Logistically, we’re in a good place. We decided early on that we could get six doses out of each vial and we’ve stuck with that consistently. We didn’t want to waste so we capitalized on that sixth dose. That helped us predict how many total dosses we’d have for scheduling purposes,” she said.

Aboelezz also said that there has been constant and ongoing communication with the VDH, VAHHS and community partners, which contributes greatly to Vermont’s success.

Hospitals and the state estimate it will be many more weeks before Phase 1A vaccinations are complete and second doses — which are required for both approved vaccines — will begin this week. According to the state’s plan, the first three weeks called for vaccines to be prioritized with specific percentages allotted to hospital, emergency medical services and home health and hospice workers. This week, community provider vaccinations begin. VAHHS urges anyone in the Phase 1A category to reach out to their local hospital after Jan. 11, if they have not yet been contacted for vaccine.

Additionally, the state released new information last week regarding later phases of the vaccine distribution plan, which will start with “age bands” beginning with Vermonters age 75 and above and then moving to younger Vermonters with particular underlying health conditions, thus prioritizing those who are older and more vulnerable.

“Since the outset of this pandemic, Vermont has provided a national standard for our response, the result of a massive amount of hard work and dedication by so many,” Tieman added. “We will not let up now.”

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