A first full day of COVID-19 vaccinations at a clinic run by the University Health Network (UHN) opens a new chapter in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a health-care worker realizing in wave one we didn’t have as much we could offer the population and wave two, as we are going through this right now, we have something that could stem the tide or could actually make a big difference,” said Jin-Hyeun Huh, senior director of pharmacy at UHN.
First up for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is long-term care staff in Ontario. The virus has taken a particularly devastating toll on those living in long-term care facilities across the province.
“The ministry has chosen long-term care facilities to be the priority because of the tragedies that we’ve actually seen and how difficult the situation has been in long-term care,” said Tamara Dus, director of health services at UHN.
Hadju Debessay, who works as a practical nurse at a long-term care home, said this is a day he has longed for.
“I could say that’s like a freedom, right?” he said.
Debessay began his career just a year before the pandemic began. He explained how COVID-19 has impacted his whole life.
“When my kids come and try to hug me, I say, ‘Please can you wait I have to shower first?’ and even after that I have to wear my mask every time even in the house,” he said, adding at work, “if it’s the end of their life, your heart is aching.”
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine has a six-hour expiry so time is of the essence.
“We thaw the product after its frozen state, let it come to room temperature, once it’s room temperature we would dilute … and once that’s actually fully reconstituted then we would draw up into the syringes,” said Huh.
From that moment, the clock is ticking.
“We don’t want to waste one dose, one drop of this,” Dus pointed out.
Whatever is left over will be given to a list of hospital workers who are on standby.
UHN’s vaccination clinic is part of a pilot project along with the Ottawa Hospital. It is an opportunity to test the logistics and delivery of the vaccine.
“It’s efficiencies, it’s technology, it’s ensuring we have a defined process that we can share with the rest of the province and the ability to ramp up as we get more vaccine,” said Dus.
Lessons are already being learned from the first day of the rollout when five long-term care workers received the vaccine.
“With immunization, there is actually some leakage that could happen from the administration site. The question becomes is it coming from the site or the syringe?” said Huh.
It was observed that there was some fluid leaking from the arm of at least one of the first recipients on Monday.
“The team changed the needle just to remove any of that potential,” explained Huh, reiterating this is still a new drug.
“The process is very similar to other vaccinations, but the whole process from end to end is very new to everyone.”