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From deep-freeze to the frontline; a look at COVID-19 vaccine dose preparation

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 17:47:19-05

The daily process begins before sunrise, as preparations are underway to soon move hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the deep freeze to the frontlines.

ABC15 was granted a behind-the-scenes look Thursday at an HonorHealth distribution site. This is as roughly a half-dozen staff members went through the detailed process to prepare the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, stored around -80 degrees Celsius in six different coolers.

About 1,500 doses are prepared each day at the HonorHealth site, which is one of five POD (point of dispensing) locations in Maricopa County.

"I think of it like little vials of gold," said HonorHealth Medication Safety Officer Sarah Stephens. "We treat it very carefully."

The vials of the vaccine are moved from the freezer to a small refrigerator to thaw, usually overnight. Then a team of about a half-dozen people work on, essentially, an assembly line to prepare the vaccine. The process involves precise measurements, diluting the vaccine and then drawing individual doses. Five or six doses, potentially even seven, can be drawn from each vial.

"We're very, very careful about what we make to ensure that every single dose is used throughout a day," Stephens said. "We want to waste nothing."

Stephens told ABC15 of the roughly 14,600 administered doses at their POD location, fewer than 50 doses have been wasted. She said those have been due to "unforeseeable reasons" such as a syringe that got dropped on the ground or a bent needle.

"We've had no major issues with preparing the vaccine," Stephens said. "So that's gone really well, the way we have it mapped out right now."

After dilution, Stephens said the vaccine doses must be used within six hours.

"We're super grateful to be able to be part of this," she said. "We do feel the weight of it."

On Thursday, some healthcare workers began getting their second dose of the vaccine at the HonorHealth POD location.

"I've been counting the days until I could get back here and get this done," said Laurie Malone, who runs Golden Heart Senior Care along with her husband, Rodney.

The two were among the first appointments Thursday to get the second dose.

"People ask me, 'Are you scared?'" she said. "I'm scared not to get it. We interact with seniors, their families, my family. I want to keep everyone safe and not spread it."

A few minutes later, Malone received the shot.

"I just feel relief," she said. "I can't wait until it's widely available for those that choose to get it."