This pandemic is a journey, and Bryan Cross is making some of its most important trips.
“We have a precious cargo," he said about the container that sits in his passenger seat.
"This vaccine is very temperature sensitive, so once it comes out of the freezer, we have to make sure it maintains a specific temperature and can't be shaken at all, so we have to treat it like a baby here in the front seat and hand-deliver it to each of our pharmacies," Cross explained.
Riding shotgun in this pharmacist’s car is a container of 500 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
Cross is vice president of professional services for MidMichigan Health. The company runs a handful of hospitals in central and northern Michigan. He's driving some of these vaccines to his company's most remote hospital.
"We are the most isolated hospital in the whole state," said Chuck Sherwin, president of MidMichigan Medical Center in Alpena, a city of around 10,000 located on Lake Huron, which is about a four-hour drive away from Detroit, Michigan.
While geography may make this area feel far away when it comes to vaccinating, it is not behind. Healthcare workers here are some of the first in the country to receive the second dose of the vaccine. Three weeks ago, hundreds of Alpena healthcare workers received their first dose.
Those healthcare workers are people like ICU nurse Katrina Farley.
“My hardest part is having to sit with someone who is passing without family there," Katrina said.
Within the next couple of weeks, the vaccine is expected to give her 95-percent immunity to the novel coronavirus.
“So, if this is the little bit I can do to protect the rest of the people, that’s what I want to do," she said.
Handling this vaccine is a process where the clock is always ticking. MidMichigan Health has one special freezer that can keep the vaccine at the desired 94-degrees below zero.
“In the freezer, it’s good for six months, and then once it’s out of the freezer in a refrigerator, it’s good for five days," Dr. Bates explained.
The freezer is kept in Midland, Michigan, which is about three hours south of Alpena. When it's taken out, it's up to people like Cross to drive it to the hospitals so it can be used.
“It's very time-sensitive, so we have to make these trips a little more thoughtful, so we don’t waste any of the vaccine," Cross said.
There are concerns rural communities will fall behind in vaccinating because some don’t have a special freezer like MidMichigan Health.
"If we were on our own, a small rural hospital in northern Michigan, it would be very difficult for us to navigate this whole process," Sherwin said.
Next week, Dr. Bates hopes MidMichigan Health can start vaccinating members of the community who are at a high risk of coronavirus complications, like those over the age of 65.
He’s seen the power of the little vials the world has been waiting for on people like ICU nurse Katrina Farley, who hasn't seen her mom in a year.
She says the vaccine will help her continue to care for those suffering from the virus. Its work she’ll continue until the journey of the pandemic is done.
"There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Farley said. “We’re going to beat COVID, we are. There’s just going to be time. It’s going to take time.”