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Home : News
NEWS | Dec. 14, 2020

West Virginia Guard, partners prepare for COVID-19 vaccine

By Edwin Wriston West Virginia National Guard

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Members of the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) for Vaccinations rehearsed receiving, handling and distributing COVID-19 vaccine at West Virginia National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters Dec. 11.

Nationwide shipments of the Pfizer vaccine have begun and have arrived in West Virginia. With those shipments come a host of logistical, administrative and operational mission requirements to facilitate a smooth rollout of the vaccinations.

“The goal of the ROC (rehearsal of concepts) drill was to validate the procedures for the vaccine receipt at our five distribution hubs, as well as to rehearse proper documentation, tracking and transportation of the vaccines to provider facilities,” said Matthew Blackwood, deputy director of research and planning with the West Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The vaccine will be distributed from the five hubs around the state. Specially trained teams of WVNG Soldiers and Airmen at each of the distribution centers will receive the vaccine supplies from shippers, inventory and properly store the vaccines in ultra-cold storage containers, then break down the vaccine supplies into smaller shipments to be transported to facilities and sites where the vaccine will be administered.

The Pfizer vaccine requires special handling from receipt at the hubs to administration into a patient’s arm. It must be kept in ultra-cold storage at the hubs, then securely packaged in smaller shipments of vials in dry ice for transportation to administration sites. The process is highly regulated to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective.

“Logistically, handling a massive vaccination process like this is a really, really heavy lift,” said Jim Kranz, vice president of data and quality services for the West Virginia Hospital Association. “We have 62,000 health care workers and support personnel in the hospital system alone throughout the state. These are the folks who have been and are on the front lines of this pandemic response. Without this level of coordination from the JIATF and holding these types of exercises and drills, quick and efficient vaccinations for our critical medical employees and those in the most vulnerable among us would be impossible.”

Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Healthcare Association, agrees.

“This drill is just one more example of that months-long collaborative effort and careful planning from everyone in the JIATF and beyond,” Wright said.

Each attendee at the rehearsal had the opportunity to analyze the overall process, identify potential pitfalls within their area of expertise, recommend fine-tuning of handling procedures, and to ask questions about the state’s Phase 1 vaccine distribution plan.

“Within the next week, we hope to receive our first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and our plans will need to be fully operational,” Lt. Col. Walter “Wally” Hatfield, WVNG director of operations, said Dec. 11. “It is imperative for us to complete our planning and to fully rehearse now so we can get the vaccine out to our Phase 1 recipients as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Vaccines during Phase 1 of the distribution plan will target hospital personnel, staff and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, select first responders, and government agency personnel responsible for continuity of government operations.

The West Virginia JIATF for Vaccinations includes representatives from the WVNG and WVDEM, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, West Virginia Hospital Association, the state departments of education and agriculture, the West Virginia Health Care Association, local Health Departments and additional subject matter experts.