How pharmacies provide Covid-19 vaccines

AThere are locked rooms in pharmacies around the Sanford health system, covered with video cameras and equipped with bulletproof glass. Inside these rooms are padlock freezers, an extra level of security for the contents inside: the Covid-19 vaccine.

As vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech, and now Moderna, are shipped across the country, hospital administrators, pharmacists and safety professionals are tasked with figuring out how to protect a limited number of vaccines. Fortunately, most hospitals and pharmacies already have systems in place to provide highly sought-after drugs, protocols that were perfected during the opioid epidemic.

“Hospital pharmacies have mostly cared about safety for years,” says Jesse Breidenbach, senior executive director of pharmacy at Sanford. He says pharmacies known for storing narcotics have been robbed with weapons. To prevent such thefts, the Sanford network has developed multiple security protocols, many of which are used today to protect the Covid-19 vaccine. For example, the opioid supply records and documents every movement – from shipment to pharmacy. Similarly, Covid-19 vaccines have been reported at Sanford and outside the monitoring system each time vaccines leave the ultra-cold freezer where they are stored.

There’s cause for concern. More than 300,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19, and while recent approvals for emergency use of the two vaccines have become a light at the end of the tunnel, it will be months before there is enough vaccine for anyone who wants it. Most states initially distribute vaccines in accordance with CDC recommendations that give priority to health care workers in the first place, as well as senior residents of long-term care facilities. But there are already rumors of people wanting to cross the border, from politicians to the ultra-rich. Fortunately, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies have been prepared.

Multiple health systems have told Forbes to keep Covid-19 vaccine supplies in locked rooms, with limited access.

Here, too, health systems have learned from the opioid epidemic, where threats of theft can come from outside the hospital – and from the people who work there. For example, there are many documented cases where healthcare professionals divert opioid drugs intended for patients into their pockets. But foreigners have also tried to obtain opioid drugs through pharmacies – either by subtle mechanisms or by force. Earlier this year, two men attempted to rob a Rite Care pharmacy in Austin, TX, under arms to gain access to opioids. Robberies were frequent enough to spur some pharmacy chains, such as CVS, to install delayed safes in pharmacies.

It is said to be multiple health systems Forbes to keep Covid-19 vaccine supplies in locked rooms, with limited access. A spokesman for UT Southwestern Medical Center said “access to the vaccine is limited.” In addition, the vaccine is stored “under multiple levels of safety protocols”. The spokesman did not want to specify what the protocols were, referring to security issues. A spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center similarly said that Covid-19 vaccines are stored in pharmacies with secured access.

And it’s not just hospitals that think about safety. Vaccine companies themselves are taking steps to ensure that vaccines remain safe in transit. Pfizer, which ships its vaccines in ultra-cold thermal shipping companies, has equipped each sender with a GPS device that monitors the temperature of the vaccine, as well as the location of the sender. These tracking devices will be available 24/7, the company says, and will “enable Pfizer to proactively prevent unwanted deviations” on shipping routes.

Fortunately, Breidenbach says, there were still no safety concerns regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. But, he says, “hospital pharmacies are always on the alert.”

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