FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — With recent announcements concerning vaccines, the United States is getting closer to seeing COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and Fayetteville is preparing to receive and store the first round within weeks.
Dr. Jose Romero is the Arkansas Dept. of Health Secretary, and he said that Arkansas could have a COVID-19 vaccine in as little as four weeks. The first round will be targeted toward certain vulnerable or critical populations, including healthcare workers and first responders.
“You get the shot for the first time, and then by two weeks you have some degree of protective antibodies,” Romero said. “We will probably have two vaccines available within very short period of each other. The federal government will decide which one we’re going to receive.”
Even before Romero made this announcement at Wednesday’s CARES Act Steering Committee meeting, Fayetteville’s been working on a plan to store these vaccines once they become readily available.
“There are five hospitals in the state they’re planning on sending the first shipments to,” said Dr. Marti Sharkey, Fayetteville’s Public Health Officer. “The only one in Northwest Arkansas [will be] Washington Regional.”
This week, Pfizer and Moderna announced their respective vaccines are 95% effective. Romero said by the end of next year, around six vaccines will be standard, but these first two should be authorized within weeks.
Moderna’s vaccine will be the second one distributed, Sharkey said, and it won’t be difficult to store.
“It just has to be frozen at -20 degrees Celsius, which is -4 Fahrenheit,” Sharkey said. “So, that’s just your regular freezer.”
Pfizer’s vaccine will be a little trickier to store, Sharkey said.
“This vaccine is very unstable, temperature-wise,” Sharkey said.
Fayetteville’s purchasing a special freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit). City administrators approached the University of Arkansas and discovered it did have proper freezers, Sharkey said, but they were already in use
The city will loan the freezer to Washington Regional, where the vaccines will be kept. It’ll cost around $12,000, which will come out of a $50,000 disaster fund allocated by Fayetteville’s city council. It’s the first and only time the fund’s been used thus far, said Paul Becker, the city’s chief financial officer.
Sharkey said medical staff in Northwest Arkansas isn’t sure how many doses the area will get yet, adding it’s out of their hands at this point.
“It’s all gonna’ kinda’ depend on the state,” Sharkey said. “We are at their mercy, but we are trying to get everything in place.”
Once the vaccines are officially given a green light by proper authorities, Sharkey said she expects the process to streamline.
“We’ll see how fast it goes, but they’re saying it’s ready to ship,” Sharkey said.