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Behind the scenes at our mass vaccination sites

Editor's note: As of August, 2021, Yale New Haven Health is no longer offering vaccinations at mass vaccination sites. Appointments are still available at select Northeast Medical Group locations. Find an appointment here.

The Pharmacy services team at Yale New Haven Health knew they would be getting the first COVID-19 vaccines after they received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. They just didn’t know when those doses would arrive.

“We were always reaching out to the state asking when’s the day,” said Dan Kilcoyne, Pharmacy Operations Manager for Yale New Haven Hospital. “Sure enough it came in first thing in the morning.”

Those first doses from Pfizer arrived on December 15, 2020, slated for frontline healthcare workers in accordance with guidelines from the state. The pharmacy team jumped right in, setting up vaccination clinics for Yale New Haven Health employees, working as site coordinators, organizing workflow and operations. Kilcoyne knew it would just be the beginning.

“There was a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility to make sure those doses would go into the arms of our healthcare workers, our most vulnerable patient populations and the residents of Connecticut,” he said.

Using every dose

The Pharmacy team was determined not to let a single dose go to waste. They already had negative 80 degree freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine. Those would be crucial in making sure all mRNA vaccines stay at the appropriate temperature, extending expiration dates.

Then the team had to work closely with the state to monitor exactly how many doses were coming in to the health system, so that they could open up appointments based on supply.

“We need to make sure that we are accurate with how much vaccine we’re sending to our clinics and matching that up with how many appointments there are so that no vial and no dose goes wasted,” Kilcoyne said.

To match up the appropriate second dose for each patient, the team relies on EPIC, Yale New Haven Health’s electronic medical record system.

Setting up mass vaccination sites

Every year Yale New Haven Health vaccinates its employees against the flu. But, the pharmacy team had never set up a mass vaccination effort on this scale before.

“Our goal is to provide the same level of excellent care to our patients that we do in the health system at these sites. However, it’s outside of our health system, often in a gymnasium or a conference room with staff that never worked together before,” said LeeAnn Miller, Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer for Yale New Haven Health. “You can imagine how challenging that is to set up sometimes in a number of days.”

For several months, Yale New Haven Health ran eight mass vaccination sites across the state. To support this effort, the team developed a ‘hub and spoke model,’ where Yale New Haven Hospital’s York Street Campus served as the centralized distribution hub. Vaccines arrived at the pharmacy in New Haven, were packaged in dry ice and then sent to each vaccination site.

The pharmacy team got plenty of help from other departments within Yale New Haven Health including from IT, HR, facilities, nursing, registration and scheduling as they set up these locations. Sarah Kelly, the director of Pharmacy for Children’s and Women’s Services, took over as Operations Director of the Vaccination Enterprise. She emphasized that the mass vaccination effort was a true collaboration between various departments in order to create a safe and welcoming environment for the public.

“Hearing the many stories of gratitude from patients who are vaccinated at our sites and being able to help them and their families makes this work all worth it,” Kelly said.

Vaccination efforts have since switched over from the mass vaccination sites to select Northeast Medical Group locations. Yale New Haven Health is also working with FEMA and the state to continue pop-up vaccination sites in some of the most vulnerable communities. As of July 1, 2021, Yale New Haven Health has given out more than 441,000 doses.

Helping others

Months after those first doses arrived, the pharmacy team wants to share a simple message: the vaccines are safe and effective. They understand people may be skeptical and want to put them at ease.

“I really encourage people if you have questions or concerns, to ask your pharmacist, ask your doctor, really seek out those answers to feel comfortable,” Miller said.

If it helps, she suggests bringing a support person to your appointment. “It’s OK to be nervous and have those questions, but it really helps to have a buddy go with you,” she said.  

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines