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Hamilton Co. EMA says it's actively prepping to store, distribute COVID-19 vaccine when available

Vaccine trial
Posted at 1:08 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 20:20:57-05

CINCINNATI — Hamilton County is making preparations to receive, store and distribute an approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Nick Crossley, Director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency, said preparations have been ongoing for three months and he expects to be fully ready by the end of November.

“We’ve purchased two walk-in freezers, one walk-in refrigerator,” Crossley said, “and by mid-December will have the ability for ultra-cold storage, which would be for (the Pfizer vaccine) primarily at minus-90 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Crossley said his agency is one of many entities that will be prepared to get the vaccine in the region. Places like hospitals, medical providers, private businesses and even the Hamilton County coroner’s office will also receive and store it, he said.

Crossley said about a quarter of a million dollars has been spent so far on vaccine prep, including the purchase of refrigeration, back-up generators and security systems.

In addition to storage, Crossley said his agency has a distribution plan which includes ensuring healthcare workers have the proper PPE needed to administer the vaccine, as well as cold-weather plans for indoor facilities and drive-thru centers. Crossley said he is in touch with the four health departments within the county, as well as the Health Collaborative and other medical providers. The EMA is also in touch with the surrounding counties in southwest Ohio and can store additional doses of the vaccines for those counties if needed.

“We are as prepared as possible, and we will continue to be prepared through the entire event,” he said.

Crossley said his agency has the capacity to store tens of thousands of doses. Because the Tri-State has so many health systems, the storage capacity for the county as a whole is very large.

However, there are significant challenges that his agency and other Tri-State agencies face when it comes to vaccine distribution. A COVID-19 vaccine hasn't received FDA approval yet, so while Crossley preps, there is an element of the unknown.

“We just don’t know the who, what, how, where and when of the vaccine and so we have tried to anticipate that need," he said.

There's also the question of whether people will be willing to take the vaccine when it becomes available. Crossley said that even if there are people who are unwilling, he's encouraged that reports have shown 90 to 95% effectiveness.

Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said she hopes people will do what works to fight the virus, including getting a vaccine.

“We cannot compel people to do things that they simply refuse to do," she said. "And it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. I liken it to mask wearing. We know what works. And some people are unwilling to do it."

The vaccine distribution plan comes at a time when Hamilton County Commissioner for Public Health Greg Kesterman said the area is seeing a “monumental” increase in COVID-19 cases and is pleading with people to do everything they can to stop the spread.

“I’m asking everyone to just stay at home as much as possible,” Kesterman said. "We are trying to get a handle on these hospitalizations and cases."

Kesterman said the county saw an increase of 3,963 cases from last week, and 831 of those came from the 18-to-29 age group. It was the worst week on record.

Driehaus added there are 1,490 ongoing hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and last week 393 people died from the disease.

“The situation is dire, and there’s just no other way to put it,” she said.