Thousands of providers are rolling up their sleeves for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which went out to healthcare facilities across the country after receiving an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA over the weekend. The first round, which includes an estimated 2.9 million doses, will be distributed throughout the week to frontline workers and nursing home residents.
After a deadly ten months, many nurses say they are “relieved” to receive the drug as the number of new cases continues to spike across the country. It’s considered the biggest vaccination effort in American history, and these providers are grateful they get to be a part of it.
Receiving the First Dose on Camera
The first dose was administered via livestream in New York City, the home of the first major outbreak in the US. Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, was given the drug at around 9:20 AM ET.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo watched the video in real-time from his office. “This vaccine is exciting because I believe this is the weapon that will end the war,” he said. “It is the beginning of the last chapter of the book, but now we just have to do it.”
The small crowd broke out in applause as soon as Lindsay was injected with the potentially life-saving drug. “I feel great,” Lindsay said as soon as it was over.
The shot was administered by Dr. Michelle Chester, the director of employee health services at Northwell Health. The governor joked with Lindsay after she received the shot, saying, “Sandra, you didn’t flinch. I take it that Dr. Chester has a good touch.”
“She has a good touch. It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay replied.
Lindsay volunteered to receive the first dose on camera after working at one of the hardest-hit medical facilities in the country. According to Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, the Long Island Jewish Medical Center had over 3,500 coronavirus patients at one point back in April. The facility has cared for some 100,000 infected patients since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming,” Lindsay said, adding, “I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.”
A Special Delivery
According to government officials, shipments of the drug were supposed to arrive at 145 locations across the country, with shipments arriving at another 425 locations tomorrow.
Most came directly from Pfizer’s warehouse in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The shipments first arrive at the state’s distribution center. The states then decide where the first doses of the drugs should go next.
Hospitals spent the last 48 hours tracking their packages online, refreshing the FedEx and UPS websites. Many facilities and their staff are suffering from sheer exhaustion as the number of active cases continues to rise.
“This is mile 24 of a marathon. People are fatigued. But we also recognize that this end is in sight,” said Dr. Chris Dale of Swedish Health Services in Seattle.
Administrators at these facilities will now have to find a way to make sure their staff can get vaccinated on a timely basis, which includes janitors, cafeteria workers, and other essential staff in addition to the doctors and nurses.
Every staff member will need two doses of the drug, administered exactly 21 days apart.
“We’re also in the middle of a surge, and it’s the holidays, and our health care workers have been working at an extraordinary pace,” said Sue Mashni, chief pharmacy officer at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
Public health officials are urging providers to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, went on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend to deliver a stern warning to anyone who’s thinking of not taking the drug.
“Please people, when you look back in a year and you say to yourself, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ I hope you’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, because I looked at the evidence.’ People are dying right now. How could you possibly say, ‘Let’s wait and see?’”
Who Goes First?
At large hospitals with thousands of employees, such as John Hopkins Hospital, they are using a tiered system to distribute the drug. The facility will only receive around 975 doses this week, which isn’t nearly enough for its workers. Within each tier, the facility is randomizing the process in what amounts to a lottery system.
The vaccination process will be a test of the country’s healthcare system as facilities get ready to administer hundreds of thousands of doses right in the middle of a holiday season unlike any other. Stay tuned as we learn more about the first round of immunization against the coronavirus.