Atrium aims to be ‘early site’ distributor of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, CEO says

Atrium aims to be ‘early site’ distributor of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, CEO says
Atrium aims to be ‘early site’ distributor of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, CEO says (Source: Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - One day after Pfizer and partner company BioNTech announced a vaccine candidate that was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in study participants, Atrium Health’s CEO said the Charlotte hospital system would be ready to be an “early site” chosen to help with distribution of that vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at low temperatures — between minus 70 to minus 80 degrees Celsius. So Atrium has already purchased refrigeration units that could hold up to 300,000 doses of the vaccine, CEO Gene Woods said at a meeting of Atrium’s Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Because of those refrigeration units and an established distribution plan, Woods said: “We anticipate Atrium being one of the early sites chosen to work directly with the Department of Health and Human Services to help with the distribution.”

He did not disclose how much money Atrium spent on the refrigeration units.

Pfizer has planned to manufacture up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and more than 1 billion doses in 2021, Woods said.

The Pfizer vaccine could be “authorized for certain high-risk populations” this year, but there still could be delays, The New York Times has reported. It’s unclear when the vaccine could be widely available in the Charlotte area.

RISE IN CASES

Word of a vaccine breakthrough came as Charlotte and North Carolina reported a rise in coronavirus cases.

On Tuesday, for instance, Mecklenburg County reported a rise in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and testing positivity rates in the past week.

Mecklenburg saw 380 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday – the county’s highest jump in daily cases since mid-July, according to state data. And in recent weeks, North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have surpassed the state’s earlier coronavirus peak in July.

Atrium took a financial hit this year as the hospital system responded to coronavirus outbreaks.

On Tuesday, Atrium reported an operating income of $22 million in the first nine months of 2020. That’s down from the budgeted operating income of $177 million for the same time period.

“This has been a year like no other,” Woods said Tuesday.

In March, Atrium began postponing many non-essential surgeries, as the coronavirus pandemic took a hold of North Carolina.

Atrium, along with Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health, began rescheduling those procedures in order to “conserve critical resources,” the three hospital systems said in a statement at the time.

The North Carolina hospital systems were preparing for a possible surge of COVID-19 cases over the summer that experts worried could overwhelm hospitals. Atrium and Novant began resuming those non-emergency surgeries and procedures in April.

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