Tulane COVID-19 vaccine distribution flowing “smoothly and efficiently”

Caroline Latta, Contributing Writer

Daisy Rymer

COVID-19 vaccine distribution is underway at Tulane University.

Distribution is taking place at the J. Bennett Johnston Building in downtown New Orleans, which is a research facility on the Tulane Medical School campus.

“We applied to the state, working with our government affairs folks, to become a point of distribution for full vaccine distribution,” Patrick Delafontaine, executive dean of Tulane School of Medicine, said. “We were approved, and we set up the vaccine clinic in literally a matter of days.”

“My role is operationalizing the distribution itself,” Joey Esneault, executive director of Tulane University Medical Group, said. “We are working closely with Dr. Delafontaine as well as our governor relations group and are obtaining the vaccine itself. But really, how do we distribute it? How do we make it flow easily, make it easy for our patients to, and in this case it is our Allied Health Staff and over 70 folks and make the process flow smoothly for everybody.” 

Vaccine distribution has been made easy and efficient for those who are eligible. Through Tulane email services, recipients receive a link containing a portal for sign up, as well as additional information for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We offer online appointment slots to anyone on campus who qualified for it. So, we’ll send an email out with all the paperwork around the facts around the Pfizer vaccine,” Esneault said. “The administration of the vaccine is seconds. We’re asking everyone who gets administered the vaccine to be observed for about 15 minutes just in case there are any side effects or any type of reactions to the vaccine. Most of the vaccine [reactions] are the same like any other vaccine, like flu.”

As of Jan. 23, there have been no significant reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine at Tulane’s distribution site. 

Along with vaccinating members of the Tulane community, Tulane medical school is also vaccinating members of the Xavier University, Delgado Community College, University of Holy Cross and Loyola University communities. 

There are some complications with this specific vaccine, however. It must be stored in a freezer between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius

“So what happens is that you have a thaw that has to occur … Once you thaw it, it has a life of about five days … It’s really critical that you pull … just the amount that you are going to need,” Esneault said. “It takes about two and a half hours for it to thaw, and then it is ready to be reconstituted. Basically, you’re putting solution, saline solution, right back into the medicine … making it usable again. Once you do that, it’s only good for about 5 hours roughly, give or take. So, we are very critical to make sure we don’t waste it.”

“We were fortunate enough because we have the … freezers since [JBJ] is a research building,” Delafontaine said regarding the Pfizer vaccine storage.

To make sure doses are not wasted, there is a waitlist in case someone misses an appointment that day. This is done to prevent throwing out the reconstituted dose. People who qualify for this waitlist include other members of this initial group, which include students and staff in the School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, School of Social Work, Campus Health staff who work with infected students and staff, frontline food service and custodial staff, and employees over 70 years old. 

Tulane Medical School is utilizing fourth- and first-year medical students to help the various moving parts of the vaccine distribution operations flow smoothly. “Our students, our med students specifically, have been tremendous … we have fourth-year students that are actually assisting with the administration itself, and we have [first-year] students who are volunteering in the observation areas. So, they may be helping with the observation itself, they may be providing the CDC vaccination cards, they’re helping in any way they can. It is truly a win-win situation,” Esneault said. 

Tulane medical school is encouraging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to do so, and to continue to be diligent in following public health guidelines even after vaccination.