It takes a dedicated team to vaccinate everyone at Atrium Health against COVID-19. Here, three Atrium Health teammates who have been on the frontlines of planning and implementing the COVID vaccines share an insider view of all the work that’s gone into rolling out the vaccine so far at Atrium Health.

Coronavirus Updates, News | one year ago

Bringing the COVID-19 Vaccine to Atrium Health: A Team Approach

It takes a dedicated team to vaccinate everyone at Atrium Health against COVID-19. Here, three Atrium Health teammates who have been on the frontlines of planning and implementing the COVID vaccines share an insider view of all the work that’s gone into rolling out the vaccine so far at Atrium Health.

Providing a new COVID-19 vaccine to Atrium Health teammates is a tremendous undertaking – one that requires a huge amount of teamwork. In order to efficiently distribute vaccine doses, Atrium Health has developed a coordinated COVID-19 vaccination workgroup to help roll out the vaccine. Three of the Atrium Health teammates who have been key in providing the vaccine at Atrium Health discuss their role in helping to get teammates vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Kevin Isaacs, RPh

Assistant Vice President for Pharmacy Services

Kevin Isaacs is responsible for overseeing the pharmacies at five different inpatient facilities and four rehabilitation hospitals. Once COVID-19 cases reached our community, Kevin helped support his teammates in managing surge capacity and providing new treatments to patients.  

Q: Now that the first COVID-19 vaccine is available, what is your role in getting it to teammates?

A: My role is leading the team on the pharmacy side, managing everything from obtaining and receiving the vaccines, working with the state to understand our allocations and understanding their plan as move forward with this, and really understanding all aspects of the vaccine. We have to figure out everything from the dosing schedule to how to store it and distribute it. These vaccines need to be stored in a very special way. So, we needed to have a strong plan in place for shipping and transporting the vaccine.

Q: What has the training been like for teammates administering the vaccine?

A: Although we had our COVID-19 workgroup already in place, we couldn’t train people on administering the actual vaccine until the vaccines arrived. We had to walk people through how to reconstitute, or mix, the vaccine. The act of injecting the vaccine is pretty much the same as with most other vaccines; but most vaccines come in a syringe or vial where you draw the dose up. The mixing process for the Pfizer vaccine is more detailed. We also have to meet our standards for documentation, and also use the CVMS (COVID-19 Management System) for reporting vaccinations, so we trained people in that as well.  

Q: What are some of the differences between the Pfizer and the Moderna versions of the vaccines?

A: The Pfizer vaccine requires very low temperatures for storage. The CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) knew it would be a challenge to store it, so they coordinated with larger systems like Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist, because they knew we could facilitate the correct storage.

Since the Moderna version is easier to store, that would be a better option for smaller, rural hospitals. We put all of our vaccines in one central location, and we’ll redistribute it as our vaccination teams go out and vaccinate our teammates and patients.

Once the Pfizer vaccine is placed in refrigeration, you only have 5 days to use it; with the Moderna version, you have 30 days. The Pfizer vaccine requires reconstitution, or mixing, but the Moderna doesn’t require mixing. Both types of vaccines require two doses. They both have to repeated, but at different times. There are a lot of nuanced differences between the two vaccines.

Q: Once you know that you’re about to receive a new batch of vaccines, what does the process look like?

A: Every week the state will tell us what our allocation is for the next week. 24-hours before it ships, the vaccine coordinator at each site will receive a message that their shipment is on the way, with a tracking number. The Pfizer vaccine is coming directly from Pfizer. We know 3-4 days ahead of time what the state is allocating for the following week. There are a lot of factors that go into how many doses we get. The CDC decides how much they’re sending to North Carolina, and that’s driven by multiple factors, including the population of an area, and how quickly are we using the product in a given area.

Q: What’s been the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your job?

A: The most rewarding part is that I feel a sense of hope – that we’re turning the tide. Our teammates have been under a lot of pressure, working as hard as they do to take care of our patients. But we’re on the right track. The hardest part is that we’re doing something we’ve never done before. Mass vaccination on this scale is something new. But this is a tremendous scientific breakthrough, and we’re on our way to reviving our economy, getting back into school and work, and living our lives the way they were meant to be lived. I know some people are scared of the vaccine, but there’s nothing to worry about. We, as a society, have had a lot of experience with vaccines over time.

Jessica Salzman, MD

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Salzman works at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in the Emergency Department. In addition to caring for patients in the ED and training medical residents, she’s also the medical director for the domestic violence advocacy team, director for the sexual assault team, and medical director for the medical scribe program.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Salzman joined various task force groups in Atrium Health to help direct resources where they were most needed. She spearheaded a vulnerable patient task force in order to ensure that the most vulnerable patients – like rural patients and the homeless – received necessary care. She also served as medical director for the COVID-19 quarantine hotel, a place where patients who work in the community can isolate and quarantine if they have COVID-19 or are awaiting COVID test results.

Q: What is your role in helping to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to those who need it most?

A: I’m part of the COVID-19 committee that helps decide how to prioritize which teammates and patients get the vaccine first. We look at all the state and federal recommendations and we work within those guidelines to decide how to allocate our resources. Certainly, those who are working closely with COVID-19 patients are in the priority one tier when it comes to getting vaccinated.

I’m also part of the team that's working on bringing the vaccine to Charlotte. As part of my work with the vulnerable patient task force, I’m making sure that those who are most vulnerable and at risk for complications from COVID can get vaccinated.

Q: Have you been vaccinated already?

A: I did get vaccinated. I had a little bit of a sore arm, but it lasted less than 24 hours, and I had no other side effects. I feel really good.

Q: How will being vaccinated against COVID-19 affect the work you and your teammates do on a daily basis in the Emergency Department?

A: Actually, from a day-to-day standpoint it's probably not going to immediately change very much. It's still going to be imperative that we, both as healthcare workers as well as members of the community at large, continue to follow COVID-safe practices. We will still be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. But I will say, the vaccine provides me with a sense of hope I haven’t had in a really long time.

Q: What do you think some of the biggest challenges will be in providing the vaccine to people, and how do you think you’ll overcome these challenges?

A: I think the biggest challenge that we have is that things are changing so rapidly, and the planning that we've had to do and will continue to do is based sometimes on very little amounts of information, and sometimes information that changes very quickly. I think the COVID-19 team at Atrium Health has done an amazing job at adapting to that and making decisions very quickly when we need to in order to protect our teammates. I know we’ll use the same tactics to provide the vaccine to the community.

Being able to adapt very quickly to changing information is something that is key in bringing the vaccine to people in a timely fashion. It has truly been inspiring to me to see so many different people from various roles come together for this one mission, and the amount of work that can be done in such a timely fashion has been amazing.

At this moment, we have nearly 6,000 teammates that were vaccinated – and that’s within a very short period of time. Again, the fact that we can vaccinate that many people that quickly is just amazing and a testament to the amount of work that has been done in a really short period of time.

Eddie Leonhart

Assistant Vice President, Occupational Health

Q: What was your role in bringing the COVID-19 vaccines to Atrium Health?

A: There’s a steering committee that has worked on the vaccine process, taking guidance from the state to set up priority phases on which teammates should get the vaccine first. Group 1 includes healthcare workers in our Emergency Department/urgent care spaces, those in long-term care facilities and COVID-19 units. Most of our work currently focuses on the teammates in this group and first responders. Group 2 includes teammates in patient units with high-risk patients or those who are immunocompromised. Group 3 includes other healthcare providers in patient-facing roles, and group 4 includes all other Atrium Health teammates. We’ve been scheduling vaccines for all these groups, and are administering them across our various facilities, and my team helps coordinate and schedule all the vaccinations.

Q: How did this affect your regular, day-to-day work?

A: Normally, within Occupational Health, we manage health screenings/questionnaires/respiratory testing, infectious disease exposures, drug screenings, flu vaccinations, needle sticks, and safe patient handling. Since COVID-19, our team has nearly tripled in size to take on the additional work. We began to help manage contact tracing and started up a call center with the ability to provide real-time feedback for teammates. Overall, the team has really pivoted and shifted to best manage our workflow and prioritize COVID-related work, but all the old work we typically do has not stopped.

Q: What does it mean to you personally to see teammates getting the vaccine over the past couple of weeks?

A: We’ve all been impacted by COVID-19. We see teammates and learn that they or their family members have COVID-19 and you never know what their outcome will be – some people are asymptomatic, while others have a mild case, and some even have a severe case that could potentially result in death. Now, the vaccines are bringing hope that there will be an end to the pandemic, or at least that it will be curbed. Seeing the excitement of teammates who are getting vaccines means a lot – I had the opportunity to kick off training with the COVID-19 vaccine steering committee and it’s a very engaged team; they’re excited and you can see the emotions of all involved. I’ve seen frontline teammates breaking down in tears, knowing there is some sort of protection coming for them so they can continue to show up for their jobs every day – it’s a very exciting and emotional time.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in bringing these vaccines to Atrium Health, and how was it overcome?

A: The biggest challenge has been documentation, because we need to document the vaccinations in two different systems – the CVMS (COVID-19 Management System) and our own. That means we’ve had to learn a new system and find the time to schedule busy teammates for training.

Also, we want to give as many doses of the vaccine as quickly as possible. Both vaccines require two doses within a specific time frame, and scheduling that has been a challenge; however, we’re working with a great IAS (Information and Analytics Services) team to overcome this and balance the workload.

Q: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout this process?

A: We were able to apply lessons we’ve already learned from our annual flu vaccine campaign, since we’re required to vaccinate thousands of teammates every year for flu. So, we transitioned that work to help with COVID-19 work. We had an idea of how we thought this COVID-19 vaccine process would work – which all changed very quickly – but the vaccine team stepped in with insights and made the process very efficient. We have a very smooth workflow now.

Q: How will the process for the next round of COVID-19 vaccines be even better?

A: The process will look very similar for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. We’ll use the same documentation/scheduling requirements, and we’ll continue to use key takeaways from these to improve future processes even more.

Q: How will this work prepare you for vaccinating patients when the time comes?

A: When the state allows us to start vaccinating patients, we’ll transition from an internal pod model to drive-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics. We held drive-up flu vaccine clinics this year and gained some key takeaways from that experience to help guide our COVID-19 vaccines when we shift to a drive-up model. We will be focusing on determining who will be first in our patient population to be vaccinated – forming similar prioritization groups like we did when vaccinating teammates, by following guidance from the state.

For more information on testing and care options for COVID-19, visit our resource hub online.