About a month into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, one surgery center nurse leader still was struggling to secure shots for her staff. The hurdles included multiple phone calls, dead-end leads, and long waits for an unsure outcome. “I haven’t heard a lot from other surgery center leaders in the area, but our experience is not a clear path,” says Shelley Burnette, BSN, RN, nurse leader at Associated Surgical Center in Arlington Heights, IL. “Initially, I was told we’re a tier 3 priority for the vaccine. Now, we’re showing as a tier 1a priority.”

But that upgraded priority designation did not prove to be as useful as it seemed. “We’re privately owned and not directly connected to any hospital network,” Burnette explains. “For people like us, it’s more of a challenge to get the vaccine because distribution is being sent out to hospitals.”

The surgery center’s usual vaccine supplier referred them to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). “I didn’t get a message from IDPH that delineated how to deliver vaccine to our own staff,” she says. “That’s it. I guess we’re not able to get it at all. How would we store it if we did get it? I’d have to coordinate a delivery and give to all staff within a 24-hour window.”

The distribution challenges appeared to run contrary to the CDC’s stated goal of prioritizing all healthcare personnel, which is tier 1a.

“If the point is to get the vaccine out to as many of us healthcare workers as possible, so we can be around these sick people, then it’s obviously not a smooth transition,” Burnette says. “We signed up at all the local health departments as individuals to get our vaccines done. In the next couple of months, we may be able to have everyone vaccinated.”

That summarizes the surgery center’s first attempts at administering the COVID-19 vaccines available to healthcare professionals. The next step was to contact local hospital systems to see if the surgery center’s staff could be vaccinated through their networks. “The hospitals have better resources to refrigerate the product,” Burnette notes.

The oldest and highest-risk member of Associate Surgical Center’s staff signed up in early January to receive the vaccine through a hospital network. She had an appointment. Then, nothing happened.

“She called me that day and said her appointment was canceled because they didn’t have any vaccine to give her,” Burnette says.

By mid-January, Burnette was hopeful that at least two of her staff would receive their first vaccine through a local hospital system. “I have a list of 17 members of staff in the surgery center that want to get the vaccine,” she says. “But it will be rolled out one, two, three at a time.”

The next technique was to sign up the surgery center to be a vaccination site for the public. The county health department offered ambulatory healthcare sites the option of filling out a survey to serve as a vaccination site. “We agreed we would be willing to do that, but I have not heard anything back,” Burnette reports.

Associated Surgical Center uses its main floor for the surgery center, and the second floor is a clinic. There already are solid procedures for isolating patients and restricting visitors. Everyone wears masks and is screened for COVID-19 symptoms. There is an ultraviolet sterilizing system in the heating and air conditioning system, which helps keep the center clean.

The surgery center building staff turned the clinic space into a testing facility a couple of mornings a week. That same space could be easily converted into vaccination space, according to Burnette.

“Nurses would need specific training on the COVID-19 vaccine, but they’re well-versed in vaccinations already as they do staff vaccinations on site for the flu vaccine and hepatitis B,” she says. “We definitely have lower surgery patient volumes, so we have more staff who would be available for a vaccination program.”

After weeks of trying to vaccinate staff and, possibly, become a vaccination site, the surgery center remained on hold. “The majority of my staff want to get the vaccine, and they’re ready,” Burnette says. “We want to get our hands on some.”

On his first two days in office, President Biden signed a series of executive actions, some of them aimed at handling the COVID-19 pandemic.1,2 The White House directed federal agencies to use the Defense Production Act, which would compel private companies to produce material that would help in the fight against the pandemic, including the supplies needed for the production and distribution of the vaccine.

The Biden administration wants to send extra money to local and state authorities to create more vaccine sites, including help from FEMA. The White House is calling for billions of dollars to produce more doses, with the goal of 100 million vaccines administered in Biden’s first 100 days in office.3 

The administration announced it will purchase 200 million additional doses to be delivered this summer, boosting the total U.S. order from 400 million to 600 million doses.4

REFERENCES

  1. Feuer W. Here are the 10 executive orders Biden signed to combat the Covid pandemic. CNBC. Jan. 21, 2021.
  2. WhiteHouse.gov. Executive order on improving and expanding access to care and treatments for COVID-19. Jan. 21, 2021.
  3. WhiteHouse.gov. COVID-19.
  4. WhiteHouse.gov. Fact sheet: President Biden announces new steps to boost vaccine supply and increase transparency for states, tribes, and territories. Jan. 26, 2021.