With national news reporting at least two COVID-19 vaccines are testing more than 90% effective, Trigg County Hospital is preparing for the future.

Members of the hospital board approved the purchase of a freezer at its Thursday night meeting, which would be used to store the vaccines when they are FDA approved and distributed across the country.

John Sumner, hospital CEO, said the drugs have to be held in extremely cold temperatures and said these freezers cost between $10,000 and $13,000.

“We don’t have all of the information; we just think we need to be prepared for whatever we can in order to serve the community,” he told the board.

Sumner said a box of the vaccine includes about 950 doses. Any unused doses would need to be stored in a freezer to remain viable.

“I think there will be 900 people right away who’s going to want it,” he said.

Sumner was unaware if the health departments would be overseeing the distribution, how many doses the area would receive or if the hospital has the proper syringes and needles to administer the vaccines.

Dr. Joe Thomas, chief of staff, will be meeting with officials at Jennie Stuart Health on Monday to discuss the COVID vaccine and monoclonal antibody therapy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on Nov. 9 for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients, according to the FDA website.

“Both the vaccine and some of the treatments for COVID have to be stored that low (in temperature),” Thomas told the board. “We’re meeting Monday — one, to discuss storage. Two, just to discuss the process on how we want to approach emergency authorization use. In the past that’s all been done in academic centers. This is probably the first time that emergency authorization use is pushed to the communities.”

Thomas said he suspects that the vaccine will be “approved by the FDA initially as an emergency authorization use so it can be pushed out faster and not go through all of the FDA regulations.”

If it is emergency authorization use, Thomas said the first round of vaccine recipients, those who administer and store the vaccines will be closely monitored.

“Which means that will probably have to be done more in a hospital setting or a clinical care setting,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure what that will look like just yet.”

Thomas said if the vaccine companies get full approval from the FDA, then the emergency authorization use will not matter.

Board members noted that generally individuals who are at high risk, health care workers and first responders would receive the vaccine first.

Sumner said he believes the vaccine doses and the administration of the vaccine would be paid for by the federal government.

In other COVID-related business:

Sumner reported to the board that he called the Pennyrile Area Development District and requested an extension to establish a COVID area for treatment.

“We were supposed to have that project basically completed in 12 months,” he said. “With the spiking of COVID, I’ve had to ask for an extension.”

Sumner noted that rapid COVID testing may resume in early December.

“We planned to start that a few weeks ago, but basically the state held back all of the testing,” he said. “We’ve only got 29 tests, but 14 boxes are supposed to be here by Dec. 1. So we’re holding the 29 tests right now for in-patient use at the hospital for surgery.”

Sumner noted that visiting hours have been reduced with Gov. Andy Beshear’s newest recommendations because of a large increase in coronavirus cases.

“With the COVID spike we have had to change our visitor’s hours to from 3 o’clock p.m. to 6 o’clock p.m.,” he said. “We were only allowing one designated visitor at a time in the emergency room. For the time being, in an unusual situation or a time of potential death, we’re not allowing anyone in the emergency room unless it’s a child under age 18 or has a disability.”

Sumner said he understands the importance of visitors to patients.

“I think it’s very important for the patient to have visitors and I’m all for that,” he said. “I’ll be glad to go back to that when it’s safe.”

In other business, the board:

Approved medical staff credentials for initial appointments: Dr. William Hartz -Diagnostic Radiology, Richard Rittenhouse, DO-Diagnostic Radiology and Dr. Benson Tran.-Diagnostic Radiology and reappointments: Dr. James Fellows — Urology and Jennifer Boone, APRN-family nurse practitioner.

Heard an update from Sumner about the laser scope purchased for $183,000 earlier this fall. Sumner said with 11 procedures totaling about $89,000.

“We’ve already paid for a large part of that piece of equipment,” he said. “I think that’s been a great purchase for the hospital.”

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