Precise technique helps Tidelands Health stretch vaccine supply through extra doses

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The Tidelands Health Newsroom

Published on February 02, 2021

Precise technique helps Tidelands Health stretch vaccine supply through extra doses

Tidelands Health has stretched its supply of COVID-19 vaccine by 20 percent thanks to precise technique to withdraw as much vaccine as possible from every vial.

When the vaccine was first released in December, Pfizer said every vial would contain five doses. Clinical workers across the country quickly learned they could sometimes get six doses – and, in rare cases, seven doses – if they used special syringes and precise technique. Pfizer eventually asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update its emergency use authorization to reflect that six doses can be obtained from one vial.

Evelyn Swinton prepares vaccines at a Tidelands Health vaccination clinic in Georgetown.“You do have to use good technique,” said David Foxworth, a pharmacy manager for Tidelands Health. “You have to do it precisely to get that amount.”

To make sure Tidelands Health efficiently extracts every precious drop of the vaccine from each vial, clinicians are specifically assigned to the task at the health system’s two regional vaccination sites. The workers prep the syringes at a dedicated draw station, and the syringes are then administered by other members of the clinical team.

The dedicated station for prepping syringes means clinicians administering the vaccine aren’t rushed to prep it while a patient sits at the vaccination station and waits. Once the clinician enters the patient data into the online system, the syringe is ready and waiting for the clinician to administer.

The result? Tidelands Health is averaging about six doses of vaccine per vial. That represents a 20 percent increase in the health system’s allocation of vaccine doses so far – meaning about 2,000 additional doses have been administered thanks to the health system’s efforts.

“We are working diligently to be good stewards of this vaccine,” said Gayle Resetar, chief operating officer of Tidelands Health. “The vaccine is in short supply, and we aren’t wasting a drop of it. Our team has developed a streamlined process to make sure we are following the manufacturer’s guidelines precisely and getting as much vaccine as possible from every vial.

“Because of our team’s efforts, 2,000 additional people have received a dose of vaccine than would otherwise have been the case at this point.”

A close-up of the COVID-19 vaccine being prepped to be administered.As of Feb. 1, Tidelands Health has administered more than 12,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to its team members, other Phase 1a workers in the region and more than 7,700 individuals 70 and older. Another 30,000-plus individuals in Phase 1a have requested a vaccine from Tidelands Health.

The health system is scheduling appointments based on the amount of vaccine supply it receives each week from the government. Tidelands Health is administering the vaccine by appointment only at designated regional vaccine sites in Murrells Inlet and Georgetown.

With the vaccine in high demand, Tidelands Health is committed to zero waste. Because of the vaccine’s ultra-cold storage requirements and short shelf life once removed from refrigeration, managers are matching daily supply with appointments scheduled to ensure no doses go unused before their expiration. Teams also transport the vaccine in specially designed coolers to the designated vaccination sites daily.

“You have to keep a really close eye on the inventory,” Foxworth said. “We are pulling it out of refrigeration and drawing it up as needed so we don’t waste any of it.

“It’s amazing how everybody across multiple teams at Tidelands Health is coming together to make it happen.”

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Tidelands Health is the region’s largest health care provider and MUSC Health affiliate, serving the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 60 outpatient locations. More than 2,500 employee, physician and volunteer partners work side by side with our communities to transform the health of our region – promoting wellness, preventing illness, encouraging recovery and restoring health.