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State tests vaccine delivery protocols

Colorado Vaccine Distribution Task Force prepares to handle COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered next week.

DENVER — As Colorado healthcare workers expect to receive about 47,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, the state wants to make sure it can deliver those doses safely.

"Our biggest concern is definitely making sure that, especially with the limited quantities that we're getting at the beginning, that no vaccines go wasted," Brigadier General Scott Sherman said.

Sherman leads the Colorado National Guard. He is also the director of the Colorado Vaccine Distribution Task Force. On Tuesday, Sherman supervised a drill to simulate the delivery of 975 vaccine doses from the Denver International Airport (DIA) to Vail Health Hospital in Eagle County.

"That's the whole reason why we're doing this whole exercise today really to find out if we have any friction points, any areas that we need to improve on," Sherman said.

Sherman said the first shipment of the vaccines will come in from Pfizer and needs to be kept at negative 75 degrees Celsius to survive transport. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) ordered 46,800 doses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"It's the start of the process as we start receiving vaccine[s], both with the Pfizer and in a couple weeks with the Moderna vaccine, of really getting it in the state, distributing it and then getting vaccines to the population," Sherman said.

> Watch video below: Colorado prepares for COVID-19 vaccine

The simulation starts with a courier loading a box filled with dry ice and a specially packed parcel that would contain 975 COVID-19 doses. The parcel actually carries a GPS tracker and thermal sensors to make sure conditions are not compromised, according to Sherman.

"Making sure we're tracking the vaccine and the most important thing tracking that it gets to the hospital, it's properly stored and properly administered," Sherman said.

At Vail Health Hospital, the vaccine doses will be stored in a deep cold storage unit. The state will have eight hubs around the state that can store the vaccine doses long-term. Vail Health is one of the hubs, but the identity of the rest of the locations will be kept secret for security purposes, according to CDPHE. 

"The state approached us about our ability to store these vaccines," Will Cook, president and CEO of Vail Health, said. "We're proud to be in the forefront and one of the first places that will be distributing the vaccines."

From the hubs, local hospitals can receive COVID-19 vaccines, but the doses can only survive in refrigeration for five days, Sherman said.

According to a draft of Colorado's vaccine distribution plan, the first doses will be given to healthcare workers with residents in nursing homes taking next priority. 

"So people in our emergency department, our urgent care centers, our testing centers on our in-patient units, also our physicians who provide care to these patients," Cook said.

The U.S. government still needs to grant approval before the vaccine can be given. Sherman said this drill is the beginning of making an important turn during the pandemic.

"It's the significance where we'll be able to get the public back to normal, back to what we're used to before March of 2020," Sherman said.



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