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Many employees of the college received the vaccine. Courtesy | Hillsdale Hos­pital

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.”