East Hartford

Exclusive: A Look at the Hours of Prep Before a Vaccine is Administered

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Stephanie Belliveau and her dad, Tim Lang, were some of the first people Thursday to drive up to the mass vaccination site at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford and get vaccinated.

“I live with my grandfather, who is 84 years old, and I work with the general public so I just, I did it for him too essentially because I just want to keep everyone safe and get this under control,” said Belliveau, of East Hartford.

“Like nothing happened. The nurse was good. Didn’t even feel the needle go in my arm,” Lang said.

To the patients, it appears easy. But behind the scenes, people with the Community Health Center Inc. are working for hours to get ready.

It all starts at Rentschler Field. That’s where they take 975 vials, or 1,170 doses, of the Pfizer vaccine out of the deep freezer.  

“When we pull that tray out, we place it immediately into the refrigerator and it will thaw there for roughly about 2 hours,” said Mary Blankson, the chief nursing officer for Community Health Center Inc. “We still then have to take them out of the refrigerator to at least come to room temperature, in about 15-20 minutes, and then we can go ahead and actually dilute those doses.”

From there, they bring the vaccine doses and diluent over to the Pratt & Whitney runway. “Then we actually use each one of those normal saline doses to then dilute each and every vial,” Blanskon said.

“The Pfizer vaccine, you have to tip it on its head 10 times, then dilute it, then tip it on its head 10 times again to make sure it’s properly diluted, properly mixed and ready to be drawn into a syringe and delivered into a patient's arm,” she said.

After they fully prep each vaccine, the clock starts and they have six hours to vaccinate someone before that dose is no longer viable.

“It’s really a dance between how many appointments you’ve opened, we know what no-show as well as what normally the trends are about filling those appointments,” said Amanda Schiessl, the site lead.

It’s a multistep process that the Community Health Center has been perfecting for months. They vaccinate about 1,500 people a day and Schiessl said they’re prepared for when the state opens eligibility to those 16 and older on April 5.

“It’s a really unique opportunity in a pandemic to contribute significantly to those and to help them receive the vaccine that they really want. So the joy that individuals get is really remarkable, but also the people who are doing the work are hardworking and passionate and that really drives all of us to be here every day and be a part of this historic moment,” Schiessl said.

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