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Doctor treks COVID-19 vaccines to rural hospitals hundreds of miles away

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Doctor treks COVID-19 vaccines to rural hospitals hundreds of miles away 1

One Michigan doctor is making headlines for trekking over 140 miles in his pickup truck to deliver long-awaited coronavirus vaccines to remote rural hospitals.

Dr. Richard Bates, an obstetrician-gynecologist, chronicled his trips with the precious, sub-freezing products Monday morning to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. The doctor detailed his three-hour drives with Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine from the state’s centrally located, core hospital, MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland to northeast Alpena and to another rural location, West Branch.

“To deliver the vaccine and bring it to our community, to see peoples’ look on their faces, the joy, the hope, that’s been priceless,” Bates said. “The mood in the rooms, the vaccine clinics, has been really amazing.”

Pfizer’s vaccine requires strict sub-zero storage conditions and according to a related report from the Washington Post, the centrally located Midland hospital secured the vaccines because MidMichigan’s lead pharmacist and head of ancillary services, Bryan Cross, purchased two high-quality freezers necessary to store the vaccines earlier this fall.

Once removed from the freezer, the Pfizer vaccines can last up to five days in the refrigerator, Bates said, during which he makes the trek to rural hospitals.

Bates said the process of delivering the eagerly-awaited vaccines to rural communities shares similarities with his joyful experiences delivering babies.

“There were similarities honestly, between delivering babies and delivering hope to families who either have been trying to get pregnant for years or just the nine months of prenatal care,” Bates said. “It’s been a joy, just like delivering babies.”

The doctor said the process cannot depend on one person alone and the team effort involving pharmacy staff and others is exploring steps to make things easier.

Overall, the nation’s process of administering vaccines into Americans’ arms has had a slow start, plagued with logistical hurdles like strained staffing and funding, while some turn down the vaccine and still other rural hospitals lack proper freezers for storage. The US also fell short of federal officials’ original goal to administer 20 million doses by the end of 2020, though experts hope the states can gain momentum in the first several months of 2021.

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