CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It is the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, a COVID-19 vaccine, but pushing through that final stretch will take a lot of planning.
On Monday, Moderna applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for authorization of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, making it the second pharmaceutical company to do so.
Pfizer submitted an emergency use authorization earlier this month.
While the news brings more anticipation, it also means hospitals have to hunker down to prepare for the logistical challenge.
"I anticipate the healthcare systems will be the first... to provide the vaccines because I think (the doses) are probably going to be limited in number," said Dr. Lewis McCurdy, infectious disease specialist at Atrium Health.
Atrium Health is an anticipated early Pfizer distribution site and has been planning for various vaccine scenarios.
"There are some differences amongst the vaccines that does impact how we administer the vaccines," said Dr. McCurdy.
One factor involves storage. Moderna's vaccine candidate stores at -4°F but can stay stable at regular refrigerator temperatures for a month. Pfizer's, however, requires storage at nearly -100°F.
"All of those logistics will probably make this vaccine different than other vaccines," said Dr. McCurdy, noting the special storage requirements and shelf life in various situations. "There's probably going to have to be more mass immunization."
It also means some hospital systems are scrambling to get special refrigerators.
Such is the case in the High Country. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, which serves Avery County and the surrounding area, just ordered its equipment in preparation to distribute.
"We're very hopeful and excited about this and ready to get it," said Rick Hudspeth, Vice President for System Advancement for the hospital system, of the potential vaccines.
Another factor hospitals have to consider is the need for two shots. Both candidates require them a few weeks apart.
"There are logistics around making sure that people come back in a timely fashion to get that second vaccine," said Dr. McCurdy.
Mass immunizing during a pandemic poses another concern, McCurdy said, as social distancing will have to be ensured and current guidance also requires observation for at least 15 minutes before a vaccinated person can leave the site.
"Those just pose a lot of logistics problems that we've been thinking about at Atrium in an effort to try and make this as efficient and effective to get it out to as many people as possible," said Dr. McCurdy.