The Guam Memorial Hospital could be getting the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as early as Nov. 23 this month.
The Pfizer vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, was the first in the United States to seek regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine. It is currently applying for emergency US approval.
GMH administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas said they have been meeting with the Department of Public Health and Social Services to discuss the arrival and distribution of the vaccine.
According to Perez-Posadas, only 2,000 doses have been allocated to Guam and they will be distributed to healthcare and frontline workers in GMH, Public Health, Guam Regional Medical City, and the major clinics on island.
“We are taking a poll among our employees on who would like to take that vaccine,” Perez-Posadas said during Monday’s GMH board of trustees meeting.
One drawback of the Pfizer vaccine is that it can’t be stored in the refrigeration systems found at the typical doctor’s office. According to ABC News, the Pfizer vaccine requires special ultra-low-temperature freezers that can store medicine at approximately 94 degrees below zero.
The delivery system is also complex, requiring the use of a custom-built “cool box” that can store 1,000 to 5,000 vaccines for up to 10 days at minus 94 degrees.
Thus, if GMH gets its vaccine allotment, Perez-Posadas said there is a very short window of time for the selected GMH staff to take the vaccine.
“It’s really got a very limited timeline. It can only last for days and it has to be kept really cold in a container that’s really refrigerated. After five days, we don’t know if we’re going to get more. We don’t have a whole lot of details, but we’ll probably have a meeting again this week with Public Health,” Perez-Posadas said.
She added that she’s hoping the vaccine is successful so that the island can finally be rid of COVID-19 and things can go back to normal.
In an open letter dated October 16, 2020, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said there are three key areas where, as with all vaccines, Pfizer must demonstrate success in order to seek approval for public use.
First, the vaccine must be proven effective, meaning it can help prevent COVID-19 disease in at least a majority of vaccinated patients. Second and equally important, the vaccine must be proven safe, with robust safety data generated from thousands of patients.
“And finally, we must demonstrate that the vaccine can be consistently manufactured at the highest quality standards,” Bourla said.
But ABC News reports that even if the Pfizer vaccine gets federal approval, the company may face additional challenges in distributing it.
ABC cites Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who raised concerns about the feasibility of Pfizer’s storage requirements because the vaccine can exist in a regular refrigerator for only about 24 hours.
Imagine trying to store that vaccine in Guam’s hot tropical weather.