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Ochsner Reveals COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-out Strategy

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   December 11, 2020

In an online briefing, the health system shared that it's anticipating receiving the Pfizer vaccine as early as Monday.

As health systems across the nation prepare to deploy COVID-19 vaccinations, Ochsner Health, which participated in clinical trials and has some familiarization with the processes involved, offers a glimpse into how the New Orleans-based health system is organizing its approach. Initially, only healthcare workers will be vaccinated, prioritized based on risk factors.

Ochsner held a briefing this afternoon over Zoom® about the COVID-19 vaccine, how they will store it, and how they will deploy it to Ochsner workers. The health system is anticipating receiving the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and says they are ready to administer it the same day.

Related: FDA says Pfizer COVID vaccine provides some protection after first dose, meets success criteria

"Our pharmacies and every site are ready today ... We're carefully monitoring when [the vaccines] become available," Debbie Simonson, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy services, said.

Once the health system receives the vaccines, it will deploy it to frontline workers, essential personnel, then high-risk members of the community using a hub approach to reach its locations across Louisiana and Mississippi.

"We have hubs that will receive the vaccine, and then we will deploy to the rest of our sites so that we can do it efficiently. The hubs at this point are Shreveport, Lafayette, and Ochsner on Jefferson Highway in New Orleans," Simonson said. "We already have our supplies divided, we have manuals for people we've walked through the process and who will pick up immediately and begin vaccination."

Ochsner will receive 9,375 Pfizer vaccine doses in its first shipment, dividing among the three locations.  

Simonson explained the vaccines will be kept in ultra-cold freezers, where once the vaccines are taken out, they can be thawed in 30 minutes and be administered to patients. The vaccines can also be stored in refrigerators for up to five days.

Related: 'We're being left behind': Rural hospitals can't afford ultra-cold freezers to store the leading COVID-19 vaccine

Katherine Baumgarten, MD, medical director, infection control and prevention said that healthcare workers will be the only ones receiving the vaccine, "for now."

"What we've tried to do is prioritize our employees based on their risk factors," Baumgarten said.

The health system created a tier system for employees to receive the vaccine. Those who work in COVID units or have contact with COVID patients will receive the vaccine first. Then others who work in the hospital and sometimes come in contact with COVID patients will be in the next tier. The last tier is those who don't work with COVID patients.

After the initial shipment of vaccines, Ochsner will be allocated vaccine shipments every week, which will help with distribution across the health system.

"What we're really talking about is several weeks, we hope, where we'll get additional doses of vaccine so there should not be a huge lag time between people in one tier verses another tier getting the vaccines. We think it'll probably be just a matter of weeks before we can get everyone who wants the vaccine vaccinated," Baumgarten said.

Related: Dr. Fauci Addresses Vaccination Rollout, Masking Challenges, At-home Testing

Participation in the vaccine trials

Ochsner Health participated in COVID vaccine trials, including trials for the Pfizer vaccine. "We were involved in the adult and children's Pfizer vaccine trial. The adult trial, we enrolled patients from August through September," Leonard Seoane, MD, senior vice president and chief academic officer, pulmonary and critical care physician, said during the briefing. "That has helped us be familiar with receiving the vaccine, keeping it cold, and being able to distribute it."

The health system is currently enrolling the pediatric trial, which will administer to patients ages 12 to 15 years old.

Additional Ochsner Health representatives who participated in the briefing include:

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Ochsner's experience with clinical vaccine trials helped the health system prepare for vaccine deployment.

Only employees will be vaccinated initially, with those operating in high-risk areas receiving first priority.

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