News & Announcements

Phoebe Awaits Delivery of COVID-19 Vaccines

Albany, Ga. – Phoebe is prepared to lead the effort to administer COVID-19 vaccines in what was one of the most severe virus hotspots in the world.  Late Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved emergency use authorization for the vaccine produced by Pfizer, making it the first COVID-19 vaccine available in the United States.  Phoebe was ready to begin vaccinating at-risk healthcare workers Saturday.  As of Tuesday morning, Phoebe was still waiting to find out how many doses of the vaccine it would receive in its initial shipment and when that shipment would arrive.

“As the leading healthcare provider in the region of the state hardest hit by COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, we were determined to be ready to administer vaccines as soon as they are available.  Through extensive vaccination planning and preparations, we are ready, and we look forward to leading a successful effort to protect members of the Phoebe Family and people throughout the communities we serve from COVID-19,” said Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney Health System President & Chief Executive Officer.

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at temperatures of at least 94 degrees below zero.  Phoebe was one of the first health systems in Georgia to invest in ultra-cold freezers to be able to handle the vaccines.  Phoebe installed those systems at its main, Phoebe Sumter and Phoebe Worth campuses, and they are capable of storing up to 300,000 doses of the vaccine.  “Early on, we took steps to ensure we would be able to administer any vaccine that may be approved for use.  We established a Phoebe Vaccine Planning Team and began leading a community COVID-19 Vaccine Medical Task Force.  Our employees and the people we serve throughout southwest Georgia expect us to be able to efficiently vaccinate a large number of people quickly, and we welcome the opportunity to live up to that expectation.  We are anxiously waiting to hear from the state when we will receive vaccines,” Steiner said.

Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program will target healthcare workers, first responders and residents of assisted living facilities such as nursing homes.  The state of Georgia has a separate contract with private companies to administer vaccinations in nursing homes, so Phoebe will initially focus on healthcare workers.  “Our Vaccine Planning Team developed a tiered approach to Phase 1 vaccinations.  Tier one includes healthcare workers at high risk of COVID-19 exposure, so the first people to receive the vaccine will be those who work in areas such as our emergency center, our COVID inpatient units and our pulmonology clinic,” said Dianna Grant, MD, Phoebe Putney Health System Chief Medical Officer.  “That group includes more than just doctors and nurses.  Environmental services workers, registrars, respiratory therapists, anyone who may come in contact with patients in those high-risk areas are also eligible to receive the vaccine right away.”

Tier 2 of Phase 1 will include healthcare workers at medium risk of exposure, such as primary care providers and those who work in outpatient clinics.  This phase will include non-Phoebe providers in the community.  “While Phoebe will administer the vaccines, they are not just for us.  We will certainly take care of the Phoebe Family, but we will also protect our community.  We have a responsibility to administer vaccines equitably throughout our region, and we take that responsibility seriously,” Steiner said.  

Among the first to receive the vaccine will be James Black, MD, Phoebe Putney Health System Medical Director for Emergency Services.  As an ER physician, Dr. Black has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning.  “While I would be happy to let all my co-workers in the Emergency Department go to the front of the line and receive my vaccine after them, it is important for me to set an example.  This vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, and I have no worries about rolling up my sleeve to take the shot.  I will urge all my team members in the ER to do the same, and I encourage everyone in southwest Georgia to get the vaccine when it is available to the wider public,” Dr. Black said.

The CDC has not yet released detailed guidelines for the second, third and fourth phases of the COVID-19 vaccination program, but those phases will roll out in the coming months.  Phoebe will follow those guidelines and will share more information with the people of southwest Georgia when it is clear when the general public is eligible to be vaccinated.