More than 900 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered by the Hillsdale Hospital last week at a clinic on Hillsdale College’s campus.
Last Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., the Hillsdale Hospital ran a vaccination clinic at the Searle Center to distribute Pfizer vaccines to healthcare workers, as well as tier 1B individuals who signed up to receive them.
Michigan currently has a four-phase vaccine distribution plan, in which tier 1A individuals — defined as health care workers and long-term care residents and staff — receive the vaccine first. Tier 1B includes those that are 75 years and over, first responders, K‑12 school and child care staff, corrections staff, and others.
Hillsdale Hospital offered the Pfizer vaccine because it had access to the college’s ultra-low freezer for storage, which the Pfizer vaccine requires.
“Hillsdale College has such a freezer for its science department, and they offered the hospital access to it if needed to store vaccines,” said Rachel Lott, Hillsdale Hospital director of marketing and development.
Initially, the hospital had expected to receive the Moderna vaccine, which does not require special freezers.
Christopher Hamilton, professor of chemistry, worked with Frank Steiner and Matthew Young, professors of biology and chemistry, to coordinate the hospital’s use of the science department’s freezer in the biochemistry lab.
“Dr. Steiner had heard that Hillsdale Hospital wouldn’t be getting the Pfizer vaccine since they didn’t have the appropriate freezer,” Hamilton said. “Fortunately, we had extra space, because we also have an older freezer that had been used by a retired faculty member. I let Dr. Young know that the material in the freezers could be moved around to provide plenty of space for the hospital.”
Provost Christopher Vanorman contacted Dean of Women Diane Philipp about reaching the hospital, since Philipp serves on the hospital board. They told the hospital about the ultra-low freezer on campus, and then got the freezer approved for storage by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Hamilton said.
The vaccine was shipped to campus in special containers of dry ice, and then stored at the ‑80°C biochemistry lab freezer, Hamilton said. The freezer was hooked up to backup generators, locked with audible alarms, and checked twice a day by a hospital employee, a legal requirement, according to Hamilton.
Once the freezer was approved, Hillsdale Hospital requested dosages of the Pfizer vaccine in order to provide vaccinations for all tier 1A individuals.
“Thanks to the ability to store and administer the Pfizer vaccine, Hillsdale Hospital received more doses than needed to vaccinate tier 1A healthcare workers alone,” Lott said. “For the remaining doses, the hospital put together and shared with MDHHS a plan to utilize the remaining doses as quickly as possible, in the spirit of MDHHS’ goal for entities administering vaccines to administer 90 percent of them within seven days of receipt. This plan included offering vaccinations to long-term care facilities and tier 1B essential workers in Hillsdale County.”
In weeks prior, Hillsdale Hospital held its own vaccine clinic for healthcare workers, since only a small number of people were signed up. With access to the college’s freezer, the hospital now needed a larger space to socially-distance all individuals in Hillsdale County who were eligible to be vaccinated. Rather than move the ultra-low freezer, they decided to move to campus, Lott said.
“We moved from our own facility because of physical space,” Lott said. “The clinic at Searle was specifically held for Tier 1A healthcare workers who didn’t receive their vaccines at the hospital’s on-site vaccination clinics the week prior, as well as certain Tier 1B individuals in Hillsdale County.”
Once the vaccine was ready to be distributed, many groups came together to make sure the process flowed smoothly.
“The volunteers all worked alongside the Michigan National Guard, which ultimately had oversight of the event,” said Brock Lutz, Director of Health Services. “Dean of Men Jeff Rogers was the Hillsdale Coordinator and did a tremendous job with organizing the event.”
Although Hillsdale College gave the hospital a location for the vaccine clinic, mainly Hillsdale Hospital employees worked with vaccines first-hand.
“Hillsdale College simply provided the space for the vaccination clinic and has provided access to the ultra-low temperature freezer,” Lott said. “Hillsdale Hospital is the entity that held the vaccination clinic and administered the vaccines.”
All individuals who received the vaccine at the Searle clinic will receive a second dose in three weeks, set up once again at Searle. The college will continue its partnership with the hospital and aid in all necessary steps of keeping the vaccines secure in the freezer, Hamilton said.
“I was happy to play a small part in getting the vaccine to Hillsdale sooner,” Hamilton said. “I know that we would have gotten it here eventually, but even a week or two earlier might end up in saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus here.”