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Ochsner, states largest hospital system, to receive coronavirus vaccines for frontline workers in coming days – NOLA.com

As the first coronavirus vaccine was being authorized in the U.S., Ochsner Health System officials said Friday they were preparing to inoculate thousands of front-line workers in their 40-hospital system while dealing with a sharp increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the state.

Ochsner will receive 9,375 doses of the vaccine in the first shipment Sunday or Monday. Those vaccines will arrive at three hubs: 5,125 at the Jefferson Highway campus in Jefferson, 1,325 in Shreveport and 2,975 in Lafayette, according to Debbie Simonson, Ochsner’s vice president of pharmacy services. Those sites have ultra-cold freezers, which will keep the vaccines at the necessary -70 degrees Celsius. 



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A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)


Ochsner will then distribute the vaccine to its other facilities around the state. At hospitals without ultra-cold freezers, the vials will be put in refrigerators, where they can last for up to five days. 

Ochsner hospitals are prepared to give shots within an hour of receiving the vaccine, said Simonson. 

“You can take the vaccine out of the ultra-cold freezer and in 30 minutes thaw it, then go ahead and start administering that vial to five different people — there are five doses in the vial,” said Simonson. 

The timing of the shipment hinged on emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which a source told The Associated Press has happened. Once the vaccine, manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, was given the green light, the federal government was to ship it out within 24 hours.

As the largest hospital system in the state with 26,000 employees, Ochsner will be in charge of coordinating more vaccinations than any other hospital system, the first test of a massive vaccine rollout that is expected to last well into 2021. Ochsner owns, operates or is affiliated with 40 hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi, including hospitals in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Bay St. Louis, Miss., and many through the New Orleans area. The system also operates more than 100 clinics. 

Deciding who gets inoculated among frontline workers — which include doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians and sanitation staff in places like the emergency room and intensive care unit — is left up to hospitals. 

In August, Xavier University President Reynold Verret rolled up his sleeve and got a shot as part of a clinical trial for coronavirus vaccines.

Ochsner has prioritized employees based on risk of exposure, according to Dr. Sandra Kemmerly, with COVID units offered access first, followed by emergency departments and urgent care employees. 

“All the people who work in those COVID units, regardless of their role, will get vaccinated,” said Kemmerly. “It’s not just reserved for the doctors on the units; it’s everyone that works there.” 

The priority for vaccination does not take into consideration certain health conditions, which have been shown to significantly raise the risk of severe illness and death in COVID-19 patients. 

“As an employer, we should not know people’s personal health information,” said Kemmerly. “For this group of health care workers, it’s based on the exposure to the virus, not your underlying health problems.” 

Employees in COVID units, the emergency department and urgent care will receive a message notifying them that a vaccine is available. They will then be asked to sign up and complete paperwork before getting the vaccine. Like the flu shot, vaccination is not required, but it is recommended. 

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The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses given 28 days apart. Ochsner is not planning to set aside a supply for the second dose, as weekly shipments are expected. The vaccine is 95% effective seven days after the second dose, a little over a month after the first shot is given. It’s not clear how much protection a single dose might provide. 

Doctors emphasized the safety of the vaccine on Friday, aiming to quell any concerns that it was developed too quickly. 

“No corners were cut in terms of safety,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Ochsner’s medical director of infection control and prevention. “Many things were done at the same time with this vaccine. Instead of doing one thing for six months and another for a year, everything was done very quickly and brought to market at the same time.” 

The vaccine rollout comes as COVID-19 cases reach new highs in the U.S. In Louisiana, the state reported 2,191 more cases and a 60-person increase in hospitalizations Friday. 



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Warner Thomas, the president and CEO of Ochsner Health, in Metairie, La. Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)




“We do continue to see a steady rise of cases and also hospitalizations,” said Warner Thomas, Ochsner CEO. “Today at Ochsner around our facilities, we have about 330 COVID-19 inpatients. That is up from 250 just a week ago.” 

Warner anticipates more hospitalizations in the coming weeks due to the holidays. 

Louisiana hospitals in total can expect to receive around 79,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December, split into two shipments about a week apart, according to Governor John Bel Edwards. That’s approximately 1.46% of the available U.S. supply, an allotment based on Louisiana’s adult population. In keeping with guidance from the state’s coronavirus vaccine playbook, the first vaccines will go to frontline health care workers at hospitals.

Up to 215,000 people in the state are in the first priority group, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. About 75,000 to 80,000 nursing home residents and staff are included in that group, along with 125,000 to 135,000 health care workers. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities are expected to get Moderna’s vaccine, which goes before an FDA panel on Dec. 17 and is expected to be authorized shortly after. 

Ochsner officials said they anticipate a vaccine will be available to patients in certain risk categories and some essential workers starting in January and throughout the spring, but that depends on the supply the state receives. 

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