Savannah hospitals prepare for coronavirus vaccine delivery


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah’s hospitals are preparing to receive their first round of COVID-19 vaccines in a matter of days.

Both St. Joseph’s/Candler and Memorial Health expect their shipments to arrive Monday, allowing them to start vaccinating staff on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“What an amazing thing, that we can be in this moment and be talking about a vaccine for a pandemic that began close to 10 months ago,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Memorial Health.

While it’s been a long time coming, both hospitals say they are in a position to store, handle and disseminate the vaccine when it arrives.

“We’re all geared up to start inoculating everyone on Dec. 16,” said Paul Hinchey, CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler.

Thacker says Memorial Health is in the same boat.

“We’re in a state of preparedness and readiness to go through those processes of their vaccinations within our team members as soon as we get them,” he said.

All eyes were on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Thursday as a panel deliberated whether to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use authorization (EUA).

In a 17-4 vote, panel members endorsed EUA. A final FDA decision is expected within days.

St. Joseph’s/Candler hospitals requested 8,500 doses of the vaccine. Hinchey says 4,500 will go to critical care workers and the other 4,000 to first responders in our community.

Hinchey says it’s likely they won’t get them all at once.

“Let’s say it’s less than that, then what we will do is based on the tiering,” said Hinchey. “We’ll start with tier one, which are all the people that are in patient care areas that are on ground zero.”

Memorial Health is taking nearly an identical approach per guidance from national health organizations.

Their dosage orders will be in phases, but they’ve requested enough to cover their entire hospital staff, which is about 3,000 people.

“It makes sure that these critical members of our community that help keep us well and help get us better when we fall ill can be there,” said Thacker, “can be well and help care for us for all of our concerns whether its COVID-19 or not.”

Both hospitals say vaccines won’t be given to every health worker in the same unit at the same time. This is in case anyone has an adverse reaction.

“You go back to the unit, not everyone is going to get it, in case some people get hit,” said Hinchey. “We still have other nurses who haven’t gotten it, who can keep the unit going.”

Like the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccinations will not be mandatory for hospital employees, but officials strongly recommend it.

“We need to do it because we have a higher sense of responsibility given that we are caregivers,” said Hinchey.

The state of Georgia is expected to receive roughly 84,000 doses, which will be prioritized to hospitals and assisted living facilities.

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