Local hospital system’s freezers ready and waiting for COVID-19 vaccine

AVENTURA, Fla. – Local hospitals are watching and waiting on a some key things to happen with the COVID-19 vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration is set to meet on Dec. 10, at which point, if they were to go ahead with the authorized emergency use for one or more of the vaccines, we are told the state could start getting them immediately after.

South Florida hospitals are gearing up for the first doses. Specialized super freezers are set to go at Jackson Health, where the vaccine will be securely stored.

“I believe it holds roughly 200,000 doses of vaccine,” Tom Macaluso, M.D., vice president and chief quality officer at Memorial Healthcare System and the Chief Medical Officer for the Memorial Health Network in Hollywood, said.

At Memorial Healthcare System, they’re ordering a second freezer. The vaccine made by pharmaceutical company Pfizer requires storage at temperatures well below zero.

Macaluso said Memorial will start vaccinating staff and employees as soon as doses arrive.

“We’re ready to begin vaccinations around Dec. 15 if we have the supply on hand,” he said. “We are training vaccinators because it’s a large number of people to vaccinate in a relatively short period of time.”

On Tuesday, advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the first roll-out, or Phase 1A of the vaccine, which prioritizes frontline medical workers, but also those at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“It’s been a challenging year. Obviously, what we want to do is make sure our residents are as safe as we possibly can,” Mark Monaghan, director of community relations for Sterling Aventura Memory Care and Assisted Living, said.

It is not yet clear who will distribute vaccines to these types of facilities.

Mancaluso said he didn’t think it would be through hospitals.

“Perhaps it would go through pharmacy chains, for example,” he said.

The distribution on every level is a Herculean logistical effort. Florida has until Friday to get its vaccination plan submitted to the federal government. Distribution, however, all hinges on Dec. 10 when the FDA decides if any of the vaccines will get the go ahead.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.