VA » Health Care » James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida » Working behind the scenes to get vaccines in arms
James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida
Working behind the scenes to get vaccines in arms
By Ed Drohan
Friday, May 21, 2021Note: To see where you can get your COVID-19 vaccination, go to https://www.tampa.va.gov/services/covid-19-vaccines.asp.
James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital staff have been working hard since December to provide COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible, but one group in particular has been working behind the scenes to get “vaccines in arms.”
The hospital’s Pharmacy Service has been involved in the vaccination program since being notified in December that vaccines had been federally approved and would be provided for distribution to staff and Veterans. Since then, they have assisted in providing more than 116,000 vaccinations for staff, Veterans and community members.
People receiving vaccinations, whether at one of the JAHVH clinics or through the drive-through community vaccination site at the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center usually interact with members of the hospital’s nursing staff. Before and after that happens, there’s so much more that has to take place.
According to Outpatient Pharmacy Supervisor Maria Castellanos, pharmacy activities start before the vaccines even arrive at the facility.
“Our role actually starts with the pre-planning of receiving the vaccine,” Castellanos said. The logistics of when it gets here, where it goes, how we start distributing it to the different locations, and how we get the buy-in from nursing as well as other pharmacy staff members to help with the preparation.”
JAHVH is currently working with all three approved vaccines – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. Each have different storage and preparation requirements, and each must be stored and used separately.
According to Pharmacy Procurement Specialist Katelyn Shatz, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have to be stored frozen, with Pfizer only good for five days after being thawed, while Moderna can be stored in the refrigerator after thawing for up to 30 days before expiring. Pfizer must also be diluted before being used since it comes in a concentrated form. Pharmacy staff also are responsible for drawing up the individual doses from vaccine vials into syringes for nurses to administer.
Some of the staff come in as much two hours before their regular shift to help draw up the first doses for the day, which are then transported to the using clinic. For the New Port Richey and South Hillsborough Community Based Outpatient Clinics – the only two that have and in-house pharmacy – pharmacy staff receive their own allocations and prepare them for being administered daily.
On top of physically receiving, storing and preparing the vaccines for use, pharmacy staff are also responsible for much of the tracking and data entry required by the vaccination program. Each vial must be tracked on the perpetual inventory when used. When the individual doses are prepared, each must be labeled with the lot number, batch number and the six-hour expiration time, and they are photographed in case there are questions about a particular batch later on. There’s documentation that must be signed off when it’s delivered to the nurses, and once all the doses are administered there’s documentation to show how many doses were given and documentation of any wastage.
“I’m usually here two hours before my shift starts and physically here two hours after just to catch up with everything,” Shatz said.
While demand for vaccines has been dropping, pharmacy staff have continued to work hard to get vaccines in arms. They set up a traveling vaccination team to assist at clinics like Brooksville and Lakeland that don’t have in-house pharmacies and have dedicated pharmacy technicians like Robert Marcellus who makes eight to 10 trips throughout the JAHVH catchment area every day to ensure that vaccines are located in the places they’re needed.
While the vaccination program is a priority for the staff right now, they still have to pull their regular workload preparing medications for both inpatient and outpatient use, but they said they don’t mind.
That’s what keeps us going,” said Outpatient Pharmacy Technician Supervisor Maria Martinez-Velez. “We don’t mind coming in in the morning and doing these things, because we feel that we’re making a difference.”