Doctors in public health and critical care are questioning Tennessee’s decision to stockpile its first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Most states are finding a way to use the very first shipments.
State officials and hospitals plan to start large-scale vaccinations this week, but a Nashville surgeon received Wednesday what is likely the first COVID vaccination in Tennessee since it was approved. But Dr. William Polk received the injection through a company that ran Pfizer’s clinical trial — not the state or a hospital.
Tennessee received one box of Pfizer vaccines on Monday — just shy of 1,000 doses — but state officials say there was not an equitable way to divvy them up, so they are holding onto them in case shipments directly to hospitals have any problems. These could be replacements if any doses are damaged en route, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Health Department says.
“But if any of it was to create a rainy day stockpile, let me just tell you there’s a hurricane blowing.” says Dr. Jason Martin, a pulmonary specialist who has been working with COVID-19 patients since March at Sumner Regional Medical Center, which won’t get any of the Pfizer shipments this week. Nurses and doctors in the COVID unit say they would be happy to use up the first batch.
But there is no simple solution.
Dr. Isaac Thomsen, who conducts vaccine research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says the state can’t easily divide the doses since they have to be handled so precisely and kept super cold. He says they really need to be used all in one place.
“If it’s a small institution with fewer than 975 doses that gets that shipment, then there may be some that go to waste,” he says. “So it gets into a really complicated discussion of resource allocation.”
Tennessee is also planning to hold back 5,000 of the first Moderna doses scheduled to arrive next week, which don’t have to be handled quite so carefully. Thomsen says, to him, that’s harder to justify.
As of Wednesday, hospitals statewide were still awaiting shipments from Pfizer. They had planned to start inoculating frontline workers early this week.