Twin Counties eye Pfizer vaccine

A pharmacist draws a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine at the Brooklyn Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare nursing home in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Jan. 5, 2021. Bloomberg photo by Eric Lee

The Twin Counties are exploring using more of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine after state officials said the two-dose immunization from the Manhattan-based drugmaker is available in greater quantities for localities than other counterparts.

Greene and Columbia County health workers have been distributing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, which is administered in two doses 28 days apart and does not require ultra-cold refrigerated storage. The Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses at least 21 days apart, but requires storage in fridgid temperatures. In December, health officials said the vaccine COVID-19 vaccines require storage at negative 80 degrees Celsius, or -112 Fahrenheit.

The state contacted Greene County officials about the increased Pfizer availability late Friday, Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Tuesday.

“They put an offer out to counties if they can manage to store and get the Pfizer vaccine into arms within seven days, there will be additional availabilities to counties that can do that,” he said.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, on Saturday.

The Moderna vaccine comes in boxes of 100 and Pfizer comes in a box of 1,000 doses, Linger said, adding the state does not like to split shipments between multiple counties.

“So they would put the whole box to a particular county, if they can store it and use it, which we believe we can do,” Linger said.

The county is working to secure 500 Pfizer vaccines next week for seniors, he said.

The additional doses will likely be housed at Greene County Public Health in Catskill or at the Capital Region vaccine hub at Albany Medical Center.

“They have to be thawed out, reconstituted and used within 12 hours of being thawed,” he said. “Our public health department and emergency operations center feels they can do 2,000 to 3,000 in one day, so I don’t see why we couldn’t use 1,000 in 12 hours.”

Greene County received 200 Moderna vaccines this week, 100 designated for 1B essential workers — including police, first responders and teachers — and 100 for residents with comorbidities, Linger said. The state also allocated an additional 100 vaccines for residents over 65, but the county did not receive them.

The Columbia County Department of Health is slated to receive 500 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week.

For the past few weeks, the county Department of Health has been receiving 200 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, including 100 designated for people living with comorbidities and 100 of for 1B essential workers.

“I received a phone call from the state Health Department last night about 6:30 or so indicating that they were going to be delivered by courier this afternoon,” Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said Tuesday. “And we opened up our link in CDMS for it at 9:30 this morning and people are signing up.”

The additional 500 doses are allotted for people who are 65 and older. Mabb said the county will use the supply at a pod that the county plans to hold Wednesday at Columbia-Greene Community College. He said it is satisfying to see this happening.

The 500-dose pod was not full Tuesday morning, Mabb said, but added he expects the pod to fill up by the end of the day. When the county has pods with 100 vaccine dosages, all of the appointment openings get taken within about 20 minutes.

“I’m having preliminary conversations with Greene County,” Mabb said. “Because the full shipping crate for Pfizer is 1,000 doses. We’re getting 500. They split the shipping crate between us and Albany County, but were talking with my counterpart in Greene County about taking a full shipping crate and splitting it between the two of us. It would just make it easier.”

The additional Pfizer doses will help speed up the county’s vaccination process, Mabb said. Columbia County Department of Health has administered 2,732 first doses of the vaccine and 1,915 second doses to date.

“I think if Pfizer becomes available like this on a week-to-week basis, in some cases, it’s quadrupling the number of vaccines we have available,” Mabb said. “That could be a very exciting thing. And as time goes by and we get more comfortable with our pods, we may end up getting a full shipping crate with Greene County for a couple weeks and then both of us going our separate ways and actually getting full crates on our own.”

State Health Department officials believe if given larger amounts of vaccine, the county could administer between 800 to 1,000 doses a day at the vaccine site at Columbia-Greene Community College.

This week’s 500 doses should help alleviate some senior citizens’ concerns about not being able to get vaccinated, Mabb said.

The Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine are equally as effective in protecting against the novel coronavirus, with both vaccines at about 92% to 93% efficacy.

“The size of the vials and the number of doses in each vial seem to be the only difference,” Mabb said. “We can do down to age 16 with the Pfizer vaccine, we can’t do under 18 with the Moderna, but there’s not too much difference.”

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