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Getting ready for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Posted: Dec. 3, 2020

As the reality of COVID-19 vaccinations draws near, fire departments and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies need to be aware of these planning and response considerations.

Several pharmaceutical companies are nearing the approval phase for COVID-19 vaccines. While many Americans have questions about the vaccine, first responders on the front lines of the pandemic response have their own questions:

  • How is distribution coordinated?
  • What should we tell our communities?
  • Who will pay for the vaccine?
  • What is reimbursable?
  • How will we be reimbursed?

Vaccine planning resources

The following materials will help to answer your questions:

Vaccine storage and handling will differ depending on the vaccine. Successful implementation requires close coordination across all levels of government and the private sector.

Response considerations for handling ultra-low temperature vaccines

Some vaccines pending approval need to be transported at low or ultra-low temperatures, around -109 degrees Fahrenheit. These vaccines will be transported and stored with dry ice, which presents several potential response concerns in the event of an accident or other related incident.

To understand the key response considerations around dry ice, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) released a White Paper on Dry Ice (Carbon Dioxide) Response. The paper provides information for the fire service and EMS personnel on scene management, personnel safety, storage information, health hazards and patient management.

Dry ice is made of carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, odorless gas. When dry ice sublimates from a solid state directly to a gas, it expands. Two situations could evolve from this:

  • Expanding gas inside an enclosed transportation container could cause the container to leak or explode.
  • CO2 expanding in a small room displaces oxygen and could cause people in the room to lose consciousness.

The IAFC stresses every attempt should be made to preserve the ultra-cold environment to protect the vaccine, and that the vaccines themselves are not harmful if accidentally released from broken containers.

This article is based on content in the
Dec. 3, 2020 InfoGram.

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