The rollout

If the priority in 2020 was to bend the curve, the focus in 2021 was to get shots into arms. Dr. Carolyn Shiau was on the frontline of the monumental task of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to as many British Columbians as possible.

“It starts with the questions ‘Can you store the vaccine safely, and can you move it around to all those locations safely,” says Dr. Shiau, an anatomic pathologist who helped Royal Columbian Hospital become among the first places in the province to receive and distribute the vaccines in December 2020.

With the first mRNA vaccines needing to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, Dr. Shiau recognized that Royal Columbian’s lab had the right infrastructure.

“A minus 70 freezer is not easy to come by, unless you work in the lab, where we store a lot of our product in temperature-controlled refrigerators,” she notes.

With the help of donors to Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation, Dr. Shiau secured an extra fridge and freezer to ensure there were backups in place for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

After figuring out storage and transportation issues, Dr. Shiau then became involved in the vaccine clinics that were in place in communities in 2021.

Taking on the challenge of ensuring vaccination clinics ran as efficiently as possible, Dr. Shiau helped develop strategies around extracting extra doses out of vials and a system for pre-drawing doses. Other clinics soon adopted these approaches used at Royal Columbian.

The next phase to occur was the general community rollout, and Dr. Shiau applied her quality improvement training to make the large-scale clinics as efficient as possible.

On our peak days, we were doing over 25-thousand shots a day throughout Fraser Health, which I think is an amazing thing if you think of how many people, bodies, and logistics it takes in order to do that,” she says.

As the immunization program progressed through the spring and summer, some of the large vaccination clinics eventually wound down their operations. By mid-December, 88% of eligible British Columbians 12 and older had received two doses.

“Helping with the vaccine rollout is kind of like the medical field’s version of the Olympics,” says Dr. Shiau. “It was this massive undertaking where all of a sudden everybody had to come together and focus on one task.”

Hospital Team