By MARK EVANS
Ste. Genevieve County leaders want to be prepared for the launch of COVID-19 vaccines.
The County Commission discussed the situation with Jeanette Wood, provisional health department administrator, as well as Felix Meyer, county emergency management director at last Thursday’s commission meeting.
Pfizer’s vaccine, created in conjunction with BioTech, appears likely to be the first one on the market. Moderna, however, is expected to have a vaccine available almost as soon.
While both are said to be 95 percent effective against the novel coronavirus, the Phizer vaccine has some logistical issues.
According to one source, it needs to be stored at temperatures of 158 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, or by another source, 94 below, Fahrenheit. It will only last 24 hours in standard (36 to 46 degree) refrigeration.
This has created a run on dry ice already, dry ice and specialty freezers being the only means of reaching the ultra-cold temperatures.
Garry Nelson, presiding commissioner, said the county will do what it needs to do to keep residents safe.
“The vaccine’s going to start flowing, and we all know it’s coming,” Nelson said.
He asked Wood whether any plans had been made for storing the Phizer vaccine.
Wood said they had not, largely because the vaccine may initially only be delivered to large metropolitan areas.
Whenever it does make it into smaller outlets, though, Nelson wanted to be ready. He noted that St. Louis has purchased specialty freezers that will store items to about 100 below zero, Fahrenheit.
“Is that something that we need to do or need to think about?” he asked. “Or, is there a dry ice maker in the community? If it gets about that temperature, it’s ruined. We don’t want to get 1,000 doses of the vaccine and not have proper storage.”
Nelson told Wood how the commission used some of its $2,099,323 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act money to order Chromebooks for the local schools. This was done in anticipation of a total shutdown on live classes and the necessity of virtual learning from home.
Some counties waited and had three to four-month waits for the computers, he said.
“It’s going to be the same way for these freezers,” Nelson said. “If we think we’re going to be the distributors, we’re going to have to have a plan. It would be very embarrassing if we received the vaccine and had nowhere to store it.”
It was suggested that the closest dry ice factory is a small operation in Farmington.
On the specialty freezers, Nelson said, “It won’t be cheap, but if that’s what we need, that’s what we need.”
He said they need to act quickly, since “Every health department in the country” will be ordering them and they will be on back order like the Chromebooks were.
Whether a freezer or a good supply of dry ice is needed, Nelson did not want to dither.
“This is probably the most important thing that you’ll be able to do as director,” he told Wood. “We want to be prepared. Like we said with the schools, we don’t know if they’ll go virtual, but we’ve got ‘hot spots’ throughout the county now and every kid has a Chromebook, so if they get sent home, they can take it with them.
“We want to be ahead of this, too,” he emphasized. “We don’t want to be the one sitting in the back of the line; we want to be at the front of the line.”
Wood said that a board member had said one of the specialty freezers costs “well over $100,000.”
“If that what it takes for the vaccine, then that’s our only choice and we’ll have to do it,” Nelson said.
Associate clerk Michele Gatzemeyer asked about the delivery.
Wood said the military would be delivering the vaccine, ensuring it is cold enough upon delivery
Nelson countered that the military “will not be here for six months” to keep the vaccine in proper storage.
“This isn’t going to be a two-week process,” he said. In fact, the Phizer vaccine requires a follow-up shot in three weeks.
Nelson noted that CARES act money must be spent by Dec. 30 or be returned. Ideally, the cost of a freezer could come out of it.
“But it doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. “If it takes a freezer and that’s what we have to have, we have to buy it, one way or the other.”
The big thing, Nelson said, is “We don’t want to be caught unprepared.”
When Wood left, Nelson admonished her to “Keep on it and let us know” what transpires.
CALL CHANGES WHOLE OUTLOOK
Later in the meeting, though, Wood called the Commission and let the commissioners speak to one of her nurses, who gave them input they had not received from Wood.
The nurse indicated that the health department had previously decided not to worry about the hard-to-handle Phizer vaccine.
“The state is not recommending that we have the Phizer vaccine,” the nurse said. She added that the Phier vaccine would also havre to be “mixed” before it can be administered and must be used within six hours.
Instead, the health department workers are looking toward the introduction of the Moderna vaccine, which can be stored in standard refrigerators and does not require mixing.