In anticipation of its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, Irwin Army Community Hospital officials conducted a vaccination plan walk through Tuesday, in conjunction with the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley.
It’s uncertain when vaccines will reach the post, but the hospital has freezers capable of storing both the Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine. Both vaccines will be maintained in a frozen state, the Moderna vaccine requires storage in temperatures of -15 and -20 degrees Celsius. The Pfizer product requires storage at -80 degrees Celsius.
Hospital Chief of Logistics Jose Espinoza spoke to the process of moving the vaccine to its “clamshell,” a tension fabric structure just outside the hospital, where the vaccines will be administered to soldiers.
“So when we move it from here (the storage freezers), when they notify us that they need 10 vials, for example, we will move it from a frozen state, put in our coolers and move it over there right away. It’s actually within the first hour it starts to thaw and that’s when the time for its efficacy will be there,” he said.
Plans are also in place should one of the hospital’s freezers experience a malfunction.
“For example, if this one were to go down, not only would we work to get it up and running as soon as possible, but if we had to move the product so there is no loss of vaccine, we would immediately move it to one of our backup freezers,” he said.
The hospital also has about 20 six-inch freezer bags that can hold the product for about 24 hours if necessary.
1st Infantry Division Commanding General D.A. Sims says the goal of these walk-through events is to keep from wasting precious vials of the vaccine. He’s hoping to see significant buy-in among soldiers to get vaccinated.
“As soon as my shot is available, I’ll have a shot in the arm. They could give this to me 10 times if they wanted to, but it is not mandatory,” he said.
Sims says as the vaccine becomes available, they’re hoping for a smooth roll out and the ability to vaccinate as many soldiers as possible.
“We think we can do a couple hundred in a day and that’s not stressing our staff, it’s also allowing for a smooth flow of people. We’re going to cut that back and I’m not sure exactly what that number will be the first day, but we think we can get upwards of a couple hundred (vaccinated) per day,” he said.
Priority will be given to hospital and health officials, many of whom have worked tirelessly the past nine months and may be developing fatigue. Hospital Commander and CEO Col. Edgar Arroyo says he hopes the vaccine will offer a light at the end of the tunnel for those workers.
“It brings hope to the overwhelming timelines that we’ve had dealing with COVID, whether its testing, treating, isolating folks, contact tracing. I think it’s hope that at some point it will level out and we won’t have a medical staff that’s almost on the verge of fatigue,” he said.
General Sims says it’s also a unique experience, knowing Fort Riley is making history, a century after another devastating worldwide pandemic.
“Just down the street here at Camp Funston is where they believe the Spanish Flu began. So here we are now a couple miles away from the spot where that began and we have an opportunity to put an end to the Coronavirus. That’s a pretty interesting circle,” he said.
Videos from Tuesday’s walk through are below
Lt. Colonel Wolf explains how soldiers will go through the process of getting the vaccine, once it is available.
IACH Chief of Logistics Jose Espinosa explains the process of storing vaccines in their freezers.
1st Infantry Division Commanding General Douglas A. (D.A.) Sims speaks to reporters at Tuesday’s walk through.