Five Henry Ford hospitals approved to distribute COVID-19 vaccines

One of Henry Ford Health System's refrigerators that will hold the COVID-19 vaccine.

In preparation for a COVID-19 vaccine heading to the market, Henry Ford Health Systems has installed specialized freezers to help store the treatments, of which at least two require housing in low-temperature environments.

The possibility of a readily available vaccine was estimated by mid-December, following an unprecedented breath-through in vaccine development. A total of five Henry Ford hospitals across Michigan have been approved for vaccine distribution.

In total, 12 freezers will be installed across locations in Detroit, Macomb, Wyandotte, West Bloomfield, and Jackson to hold vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, two of the biotech companies that have already created treatments up to 95% effective.

Henry Ford was the only hospital chain in Michigan to host a phase-3 trial site for the Moderna mRNA vaccine study, which a spokesperson says will allow it to be ready to distribute a vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

“We have been investigating these specialized refrigeration units needed to store these vaccines and preparing our facilities and operations since early summer,” said Ed Szandzik, RPh, MBA, Vice President of Pharmacy Operations at Henry Ford Health System.

Both vaccines need to be stored at below-freezing temperatures; Moderna's at negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit and Pfizer's at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit. The necessity for such cold storage will present an obstacle to mass distribution of a vaccine in the coming months.

Among the reasons is the availability of refrigeration units that can maintain cold temperatures. While the units that have been installed are commercially available, they are likely to be among the most sought-after appliances among public health systems and hospital organizations in the country. Szandzik said the hospital was ready for this.

“Since we saw this potential need a few months back, we put in our order and made a concerted effort to be very proactive by securing these super freezers early on,” he said.

The installation of the units will be completed by Dec. 1. The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be reviewed by an FDA Advisory Committee on Dec. 10. That means shipments could start going out to HFHS by Dec. 12. Moderna's vaccine is likely to be available by the end of January.

Pfizer says Michigan will receive several hundred thousand doses of the 6.4 million the company plans to ship before the end of the year. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to be effective, which means the first batch will help around 3.2 million people.