It is a small unassuming freezer set up in the pharmacy of the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home but provides hope of normalcy

A year ago staff at Bill Nichols was fighting to save resident lives as nearly 100 contracted the coronavirus and many staff too. Ultimately 46 veteran residents lost the battle with COVID-19 But now the freezer means residents are more easily protected and normalcy can soon return.

“Now that we are COVID free, having the these vaccines on site enables us to have unrestricted visits and to have residents go about their daily routines instead of having them restricted to their rooms,” Michael McBride II said. “We are proud of having that opportunity. No. 1, it means we can maintain a safe environment for all the Veterans here at the home and all three of the rest of the homes.”

McBride leads the pharmacy operations for HMR, the contract manager of Alabama’s state owned veterans homes including Bill Nichols.

“Each of the homes will have access and the ability to house and store and administer the Moderna vaccination,” McBride said. “We are one of the only long-term care facilities in the state to have that opportunity.”

Walgreens staffed clinics at the facility administering the Pfizer vaccine. It is the same program that provided vaccination clinics to long-term care facilities across the country starting in December 2020.

Now new residents can get the vaccine without leaving.

“We get it in here and are able to set up clinics in house rather than send residents out to clinics and expose them further,” McBride said. “We can leave them here in the facility and administer the vaccines here at Bill Nichols.”

The new freezer and accompanying refrigerator have equipment allowing 24-hour, seven day a week digital monitoring of the temperature, something required to store the vaccine. If the day comes, the equipment can be transitioned to house other pharmaceuticals at the home.

While large enough to store about 800 doses of the vaccine, McBride said the freezer at Bill Nichols would not house that much.

“Moderna sends out 100 doses at a time,” McBride said.

That would easily handle the approximately 100 residents at Bill Nichols who are already about 95% vaccinated. Now Bill Nichols waits for its delivery. McBride said it should happen within a week. Now veterans and staff can get the vaccine at Bill Nichols.

“That is what makes this unique is we have the ability to store them here and the nurses have the capability to administer onsite,” McBride said. “The design of the program is for new admissions or healthcare workers who haven’t been vaccinated yet. It is a really good thing. Herd immunity — that is the goal.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.