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How one hospital system is relying on a fleet of Dodge minivans to make sure healthcare workers in remote areas can get their COVID shots
Distributing COVID-19 vaccines to rural areas hit hard by the pandemic will be one of the many difficult challenges that states and health systems face in vaccinating Americans.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based health system Sanford Health is planning to use a fleet of Dodge minivans to courier Pfizer vaccines to rural hospitals throughout the Midwest.
Some states and health systems have decided against re-distributing Pfizer vaccines to rural hospitals. In those cases, rural hospitals will wait for the Moderna vaccine to be authorized.
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Dodge Caravans packed with COVID-19 vaccines will soon be zipping across the rural Midwest.
They'll be on their way to drop the precious vials at small, remote hospitals across a region that spans 200,000 square miles.
The vans, emblazoned with the logo of Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health, are part of the rural healthcare system's courier network that typically ferries supplies, medications, and lab specimens.
Now, Sanford's 180 couriers will be transporting the vaccines that are key to ending a pandemic that has killed about 300,000 Americans.
On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, the first one in the US to get the green light. Vaccines were shipped on Sunday and began arriving at on Monday.
Sanford's courier network will be used to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach the system's frontline healthcare workers — and later, the general public — in rural areas that are far from its big hospitals equipped with expensive, ultra-cold freezers that will store Pfizer vaccines.
"We have many COVID hospital units even in the small locations, so we want to equitably distribute the vaccine to make sure we're getting it to everyone that meets the criteria established by the state," Jesse Breidenbach, Sanford's senior executive director of pharmacy, told Business Insider.
Sanford is embarking on an ambitious plan to re-distribute Pfizer vaccines to small, rural hospitals in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Other health systems that Business Insider spoke with said they had no plans to move the Pfizer vaccines from the big, often urban hospitals where they will be shipped.
Instead, rural healthcare workers in those systems are waiting on Moderna's vaccine, which is set to be reviewed by an FDA panel this week.