By Jamie Leary

VAIL, Colo. (CBS4) – Vail Health has been identified as one of eight distribution sites for Colorado’s first round of Pfizer vaccinations. On Tuesday, it took part in a unique exercise to demonstrate exactly how it plans to handle the precious cargo.

(credit: CBS)

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“We’re just exercising, making sure we’re tracking the vaccine and the most important thing, tracking that it gets to the hospital, is properly stored, properly administered, and that we’re able to track the data and know the amount of doses that have been administered and then how many we still have on hand,” said Brigadier General Scott Sherman, Director of the Colorado Vaccine Distribution Task Force.

Sherman was on hand at Denver International Airport Tuesday morning, as a courier service prepared to receive 195 vials of a mock Pfizer vaccine for delivery to Vail Health.

“We’ve been spending the last couple of months in anticipation of a vaccine coming, including making sure that we have storage capability in our special freezers,” said Will Cook, Vail Health President and CEO.

(credit: CBS)

While Vail Health doesn’t know how many doses it will receive for the first round, it will be responsible for distributing vaccinations to neighboring counties and small hospitals. It has two ultra-cold freezers, which have the capacity to store thousands of doses at -75 degrees Celsius.

The vaccine can be thawed in as little as 30 minutes and prepped for distribution.

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“We’d move them to this refrigerator right next to it [the freezer], and then in the refrigerator, once it’s thawed it’s good for 120 hours or five days,” said Jess Peterson, a pharmacist with Vail Health. “Then once we remove it from the refrigerator, then we can reconstitute it, and it’s good for six hours and ready for administration.”

Peterson said the process is much the same as the one Vail Health uses for other vaccines. The biggest difference? The cold storage.

(credit: CBS)

“The ultra-low cold freezer is really what’s causing all the changes in procedure, and that’s going to be the biggest issue,” said Peterson.

The hospital has a remote temperature sensor that alerts staff if it drops, and the vaccines will have 24 hour surveillance.

Later this week the governor is expected to give an update regarding who will be listed as priority for the first round of vaccines, as well as a timeline for when the vaccines are expected to arrive.

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Vail Health is working closely with Eagle County Public Health on a phased plan for distribution, the first of which will prioritize frontline healthcare workers, as well as employees and residents of long-term care facilities.

Jamie Leary