Providence Southern California, which operates St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica, will begin administering vaccines to its frontline caregivers this week.

The first shipments of Pfizer vaccines will arrive at four Providence hospitals by Tuesday or Wednesday this week and be distributed to vulnerable workers at all 11 Providence hospitals. Between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Providence expects to offer initial vaccine doses to all 20,000 of its high risk caregivers by the end of the year.

“We’re so excited to be able to finally announce that we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our vaccines,” said Sylvain Trepanier, DNP, RN, regional chief clinical executive. “We have been working very diligently in getting ourselves ready for this historic moment and we’re poised and ready to start vaccinating.”

Providence began preparing for the vaccine distribution in early October and has established a distribution, transportation, and ultra cold storage system connecting all of its hospitals. Last Friday the hospitals performed a mock transportation run in anticipation of the vaccine’s arrival.

All healthcare providers in the Providence hospital network have been surveyed and assigned as high, medium, and low risk based on their COVID exposure levels and underlying conditions and a system has been developed for workers to schedule vaccination at their local Providence center.

“We have all the confidence that we will be able to offer vaccination for all of our high risk caregivers and providers before the end of this year, which is a really important step in counteracting this dreadful disease,” said Trepanier.

In the next two weeks Providence expects to receive 26,325 vaccine doses to share among its hospital network. In total Providence has 40,000 caregivers in its high, medium, and low risk categories.

Providence has also volunteered to serve as an inoculation center when the second tier of vaccinations begins for essential workers and is looking into ways to help vaccinate individuals in low income communities when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

“As part of our community investment we are planning, once we get the first and second tiers cared for, on reaching out into underserved communities to do vaccine clinics there,” said Teresa Frey, RN, MSN, regional chief quality officer. “We’ve been working now on education there and we started flu shot clinics so we could get the communities familiar with our operations.”

The first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine left Michigan early Sunday for 145 distribution centers nationwide.

California’s initial batch was scheduled to total 325,000 doses.

The vaccine was sent to hospitals and other sites across the country that can store it at extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Pfizer is using containers with dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment stays colder.

All Providence hospitals are nearing capacity and are preparing to leverage additional areas of the hospital to treat the rising number of COVID-19 patients.

“If everyone goes out and travels as much as they did for Thanksgiving for Christmas and New Years, then I am going to worry that we could have more people in our hospitals than we can manage,” said Trepanier. “We still can manage it now, but it’s a stretch.”

While the general public awaits a broader vaccine roll out Trepanier urged everyone to do what they can to bend the curve — keep their distance, wash their hands, wear their mask, and stay at home.