The operator of three hospitals in the SouthCoast says the first shipment of vaccines will be administered to frontline health care workers beginning on Wednesday. 

The shipment of vaccines is expected to arrive before 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, followed by a test-run of the vaccine process. The vaccines will then be distributed to the three Southcoast hospitals: Charlton Memorial, St. Luke’s in New Bedford, and Tobey in Wareham. 

“I think it's extremely hopeful and promising,” Tonya Johnson, Southcoast Health vice president of operations, said. “The vaccine really is an added layer of protection for those that are on the frontlines caring for our patients and serving in our communities.”

Official distribution of the vaccines to frontline health care workers is expected to begin on Wednesday at 7 a.m. where clinics will be open for up to 17 hours a day to administer vaccines. Southcoast Health expects to run out of vaccines by late-Friday or Saturday, with more shipments arriving in the next several weeks.

Southcoast Health has about 3,000 health care staff who have been interacting with COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. It includes doctors and nurses but also registration staff, housekeepers, and meal service workers who are in close contact with infected patients. 

Exact figures on how many Southcoast Health workers have been infected with the virus is unknown but, according to the CDC, the prevalence of positive COVID-19 cases among health care workers is anywhere between 3% and 11%. According to Southcoast Health spokesperson Shawn Badgley, the hospital operator has stayed within that range since March.

The first batch of ‘high-risk’ staff will sign-in to their vaccine appointment using an app that Southcoast Health has also utilized for distributing flu vaccines in the past. Workers will receive the vaccine and then be under a mandatory 15-minute watch period to make sure there are no adverse reactions. The second dose of the vaccine will be administered within 17 to 21 days after the first dose. 

“It's really important that we get this right and that no dose is wasted,” vice president of operations Johnson said.

The vaccines are being stored in an ultra cold freezer at Charlton Memorial capable of holding 250,000 doses. The hospital hopes to work out any logistical problems during the test-run on Tuesday before the roll out begins. 

It’s expected that vaccines will be distributed to the general public beginning in April.

“Our goal is that every person that wants a vaccine gets a vaccine,” Johnson said. 

“It's certainly going to take several months to meet that goal but I think we're up for the challenge.”

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Nadine Sebai is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at nsebai@ripr.org.