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FDA meeting to consider COVID-19 vaccines as local hospitals prepare for distribution

PITTSBURGH — As both Pfizer and Moderna have shown success in recent trials for the COVID-19 vaccine, our local hospitals are preparing to store each one.

Both Allegheny Health Network and UPMC are making necessary preparations to ensure the vaccine will be administered safely and effectively to patients and healthcare workers.

In doing so, both health systems have discovered the storage for these vaccines is unusual.

The Pfizer vaccine will need to be stored at -70 degrees, and hospitals have new freezers coming in every day.

“It’s more unusual for something to be stored at -70 degrees ... so that is very unusual. And that is what makes this more complicated is that we had to order special equipment to be able to handle those medications,” said Laura Mark, VP of pharmacy at AHN.

Pfizer announced Wednesday a final analysis has revealed that its COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective in a clinical trial.

For Moderna, its vaccine doesn’t require the ultra-cold temperatures and can last longer when it’s thawed. That is something UPMC is preparing for as well.

“The Pfizer vaccine does require special freezing that most hospitals don’t typically have. They are freezers that are most often used for the research setting, so we have some and are procuring more to make sure that we can accommodate to distribute the vaccine,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology.

Moderna announced Monday that it believes its vaccine is 95% effective, but it still needs to go through a series of tests. It has not been tested on children.

There are still questions over whether women who are pregnant should get either vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is convening a panel to determine where the vaccines will go first.

CNN reported the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called for a meeting within the next month to consider if it should green light the vaccines.

The National Academy of Medicine has made a series of recommendations as to who would get the shots first. It starts with people at high risk, healthcare workers and first responders, but states will ultimately get the final say.

If all goes as planned, about 20 million people could get a shot before the end of the year.

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