With lots of smiles and applause, St. Charles in Bend received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning.
A FedEx truck with only one piece of cargo – a single, temperature-controlled box of 975 does – arrived just before 10:30 a.m., the hospital said in a release.
“This is a historic moment,” said Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Heath System. “In the same year a global pandemic landed in the United States, the scientific community delivered a vaccine. It’s a remarkable achievement that gives us hope as we continue to battle this virus and try to return our world to some version of normal.”
Debra Carlson, an inventory coordinator for the hospital’s inpatient pharmacy, donned safety goggles and a special pair of thick gloves while taking the box and placing them in an ultra-cold temperature freezer capable of storing them at -70 degrees C.
“The eagle has landed,” she said into her phone upon taking delivery, calling it “such a symbol of hope and next step forward for us.”
In a news conference later Thursday, Chief Pharmacy Officer Michael Powell said everyone in the pharmacy stopped what they were doing to watch the process unfold and erupted in applause.
He called it “the beginning of the end of working through this pandemic.”
Dr. Cynthia Maree, who is overseeing the vaccine at the hospital, said the excitement Thursday was a little like Christmas morning.
The #COVID19 vaccine has arrived #inCentralOregon! St. Charles will begin administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to frontline caregivers very shortly. More vaccines will be arriving weekly, but please continue to #washmaskdistance.#theeaglehaslanded pic.twitter.com/NIn3aJ84mW
— St. Charles (@STCHealth) December 17, 2020
The vaccines will remain in the freezer until Monday morning when the pharmacy team will begin dethawing and diluting individual doses in preparation for administering them to the first group of caregivers at noon.
It is expected all 975 doses will be dispersed by the end of Wednesday, the hospital said.
Maree reiterated Thursday that while many of the hospital’s caregivers and staff are clamoring to be at the front of the line for the vaccine, others still aren’t sure and want more information.
The goal over the next few weeks is to educate everyone on the vaccine’s safety and benefits, Maree said.
In the meantime, St. Charles caregivers who are eligible for vaccination are receiving notifications via text and email with information about when they are scheduled to receive their first dose.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, so only after receiving a second dose three weeks out will they be considered fully vaccinated.
The vaccine arrives on a day when St. Charles Bend has 50 inpatients with COVID-19, four of whom are in the ICU and two of whom are on a ventilator.
The health system continues to postpone some elective surgeries to free up the staff and beds needed to care for the highest-need patients.
“This year has been a difficult year for all of us, and the fight is not over yet,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive. “The stress on our health system continues to be very real. On Tuesday, every one of our ICU beds were full. While today is certainly one to be celebrated, we must acknowledge the difficult road still ahead of us and continue to be vigilant in halting the spread of the virus.”
He said he expects local numbers to continue to rise as post-Thanksgiving cases come to light.