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LI health systems, pharmacies say they're ready to receive vaccine

If the Pfizer vaccine is approved, Governor Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says Long Island can expect 26,500 vaccine doses in the first batch, possibly as early as this weekend. Northwell Health is prepared with multiple ultra-cold freezers. Nassau County residents can get vaccine info via text message. Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island health systems and pharmacies said they’re prepared to begin receiving deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines, but not everyone expects to receive the vaccines at the same time.

The news comes as COVID-19 cases continue to climb on Long Island and nationwide. On the Island, the number of cases has risen to above 1,500 in five of the last six days, with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone acknowledging Tuesday that his county has hit that second wave.

The larger health systems in the region, including Northwell Health and Catholic Health Services, said they expect to get vaccines from New York City-based Pfizer by next week. The number of doses coming in the first deliveries is not known, health care executives said.

"We’ve filled out provider enrollment forms that included questions about our patient demographics, the number of health care workers, capacity to store vaccines and how many flu vaccines we typically administer," said Onisis Stefas, chief pharmacy officer at Northwell Health.

Pfizer first, though, must get emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA's independent advisers on Thursday are expected to debate if evidence is strong enough to recommend using the vaccine. A decision could come before the week is out.

The vaccine comes in two doses that have to be taken 21 days apart, medical experts said. Another vaccine, by Moderna, would have doses taken 28 days apart. Moderna, like Pfizer, has applied for emergency use authorization.

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Stefas said Pfizer's first doses will be used for front-line hospital workers.

Northwell Health purchased 19 ultracold freezers to store the Pfizer version of the vaccine, Stefas said. The vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is much colder than other vaccines. That’s an arctic minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Catholic Health Services said it purchased freezers in August and expects to have doses of the vaccine by Dec. 16.

"We will begin by administering the vaccine to our front line workers," said Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, chief clinical officer at Catholic Health.

Cuomo said last week that New York would work with the federal government to get nursing home residents and staff vaccinated. The federal government's plan involves using pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens to help conduct the vaccinations.

CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate on-site clinic dates directly with each facility. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it expects that three total visits over two months are likely to be needed to administer both doses of a vaccine to residents and staff.

Other chains and independent pharmacies said they also expect vaccine doses in the coming weeks or months.

"We’ve spent the last few months doing as much prep work as we can," said Brittany Orlando, clinical services manager for Stop & Shop Pharmacy.

The supermarket chain has 51 stores on the Island, 30 of which have pharmacies. Stop & Shop operates more than 250 pharmacies throughout the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Independent pharmacy owners said they’re not sure when they’ll receive the vaccines, but expect to be distributors.

Tom D’Angelo, who operates Franklin Square Pharmacy, said, "We don’t know what the deployment will be as of yet, but there are thousands of independent pharmacies and that’s a really big distribution chain."

Independent pharmacies that want to distribute the Pfizer version of the vaccine would need to invest in the colder freezers, added Nidhin Mohan, owner of New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park.

"I haven't bought the freezer because I don't know which [vaccine] I'd get," he said. "If it's the Moderna one, I don't need that freezer."

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