Hospital leaders in North Carolina and Ohio told CNBC on Tuesday they will soon be ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine once emergency use authorization is granted by U.S. regulators.
Atrium Health CEO Eugene Woods said the Charlotte-based health network is “locked and loaded” to combat the Covid-19 pandemic through vaccinations. “We have refrigeration units that can store up on Day One 300,000 vials,” Woods said on “Squawk on the Street.” “We also are training staff as we speak.”
Two coronavirus vaccines are awaiting clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, putting the complex logistics of distributing them into sharp focus. Following the emergency use application from Pfizer and BioNTech on Nov. 20, biotech firm Moderna submitted for the same authorization Monday after final trial data showed its vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing Covid-19.
“We are ready. We are anxious for the vaccine,” OhioHealth CEO Dr. Stephen Markovich said alongside Woods in the same segment. OhioHealth, a 12-hospital system based in Columbus, is operating two of the state’s 10 prepositioning sites for the vaccine. The state health department chose the locations based on a number of factors, including geography and access to ultra-cold storage freezers.
“We’re working on the protocols, working through the triaging of people, and it’s going to be an exciting time. It’s really, hopefully, going to be the beginning of the end” of the pandemic, Markovich said. “It won’t be easy. It’s not going to be fast. It’s going to be complicated, but I really think it’s going to be an exciting time.”
The FDA is likely to authorize a vaccine for limited use at first and shipments could start before the end of the year. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel intends to vote Tuesday on who should receive the vaccine first. High-risk populations and health-care workers should be the highest priorities, public health officials and medical experts have said.
“As soon as the protocols get released by the CDC — I know they’re meeting today — we’ll be ready to go,” said Woods, whose not-for-profit health network has locations in both the Carolinas and Georgia. “We anticipate that the vaccine distribution is just a few weeks away. Nothing is going to mean more to me personally than seeing my front-line workers, who are literally exhausted at this point, receive their first doses of vaccine,” he added. “It will be the highlight, not just of the year, but of the decade.”
The potential vaccine distribution comes at a critical juncture in the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, following weeks of rising case counts, hospitalizations and deaths. North Carolina and Ohio are among 24 states that currently are seeing record-high hospitalizations for Covid-19 patients, based on a seven-day average, according to a CNBC analysis of COVID Tracking Project data, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic.
Markovich, a physician, painted a worrisome picture of the epidemic in Ohio, where more than 5,000 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 on Monday. “That is a 200% growth in hospitalized cases since the first of November,” he said. “So, it’s a big challenge for all hospital systems across the state.”
Health-care workers in Ohio also are feeling the strains of the monthslong crisis, Markovich said, contending the American public can ease their burden by being willing to receive a Covid-19 vaccine when it is available.
“People are tired. I wouldn’t say they are anxious. I think they feel supported, but they are mentally and physically pretty darn exhausted,” he said. “Once the vaccine gets out, we need really to push on the population to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”