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Following The Shot: How One Dose Of Moderna Vaccine Made It Into An Arm

 Archie's mother Elizabeth takes a picture of the big moment.
Steve Burger
Archie's mother Elizabeth takes a picture of the big moment.

Archie Thomas is a church organist who grew up attending the Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana. He still plays here occasionally.

But on this warm spring day, the 49-year-old is visiting for another reason — to get his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I do have a pre-existing condition — diabetes — so I thought it would be in my best interest to get vaccinated,” he said.

When Thomas learned about the popup clinic at the southern Indiana church, he talked his mother Elizabeth into going with him to be vaccinated. She took his picture to record the big moment.

Nearly 110 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. And delivering each dose requires a complex chain of events. This is the story of one of those doses — and how it ended up in Thomas’ left arm.

That dose of Moderna vaccine is from lot number 017B21A. I wanted to trace its path, so I pieced together information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine distributor and health officials.

Moderna wouldn’t say where this dose was made, but it could have come from the company’s big plant outside Boston — or a partner facility.

Next, it’s shipped to McKesson Corp., which handles distribution. The company has four warehouses where workers assemble kits of supplies and then wait for a shipping order from the CDC.

That comes once Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box requests the release of part of the state’s weekly vaccine allotment.

“We try to make sure that that vaccine is already designated to go to specific sites … so we’re not trying to redistribute vaccine all across the state,” Box said when I asked her about it at a news conference.

In the case of the Moderna vaccine lot I’m tracing, that specific site is the Greater St. James Church, which is hosting a clinic staffed by the local health department.

Which brings us to the Vanderburgh County Health Department in Evansville, where McKesson has shipped Lot 017B21A. Clinical and Outreach Division Director Lynn Herr took me into the secure vaccine storage area.

The stand-up freezer is one of several holding various vaccines. And because Moderna’s vaccine has to be stored at an extremely stable temperature, a timer keeps the door from being opened too often.

“One day prior to one of our clinics, the lot numbers that we’re going to use, we pull out of the freezer and it moves to a refrigerator,” Herr said.

So now Moderna lot 017B21A is ready for the clinic at the Greater St. James recreation center.

It’s the final step that is the most difficult — getting people to sign up for the vaccine.

Thomas admits he had some concerns.

“I did at first, but the church I attend in Owensboro, Kentucky — Mount Calvary — Pastor Andre Bradley, he had a medical professional come and talk to us and give us some information about it, so I was a little more at ease,” Thomas said.

When asked about the importance of the church’s role, he added, “Being a faith-based Christian, I think it’s good to have all kind of information. These are things the church needs to talk about so they can be very proactive concerning health.”

That hesitancy continues to be a serious problem across America. The Vanderburgh County Health Department planned for more than 300 people at this clinic. But it delivered just 11 doses.

Because of the low response, Greater St. James clinic organizers canceled an event to deliver the second doses of the Moderna vaccine. Thomas and the others will go directly to the health department for their doses.

Copyright 2021 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

Steve Burger