For the frontline workers at St. Mary Medical Center, Christmas came a little early when 975 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were delivered this month.
The tiny vials of hope came after nearly a year of fighting the uphill pandemic battle, a year of constant stress, worry and fear. Doctors and nurses put their own lives on the line those first few months when PPE was dangerously limited. They isolated from spouses and children in order to not accidentally spread the virus to them. And, because visitors were prohibited inside the hospital, they heartbreakingly consoled the loved ones of dying COVID patients via FaceTime.
But finally, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the newly approved vaccine.
St. Mary was among 87 hospitals, including Bristol’s Lower Bucks Hospital, to receive doses recently. On Thursday, Dec. 17, St. Mary healthcare workers lined up to be some of the first individuals in Bucks County to get the shot. The first recipient at St. Mary was respiratory therapist Anita Hinchcliff, RRT. Pharmacist Jeffrey Gonzales, PharmD, administered the vaccination.
“The vaccine is a vitally important tool in getting the pandemic under control and we are delighted to have begun offering colleagues and physicians vaccinations,” commented hospital officials. “Even with hope on the horizon, we strongly urge everyone in our community to mask up, wear masks properly (covering nose and mouth), physically distance, wash hands, and avoid crowds and close conversations.”
Pennsylvania received a total of 111,150 doses of the vaccine, which will be distributed according to the state Department of Health’s phased plan.
The first phase is divided into two parts, with the first doses of the vaccine administered to healthcare workers, EMS first responders and residents and staff in congregate care settings. In the second phase, the department anticipates more vaccine doses will be available. This will allow the vaccination of those in the first phase who were not able to receive it. The third phase will begin once the department has a sufficient supply of the vaccine. At this time, the entire population will have access.
“This is a pivotal development in the fight against COVID-19 in Pennsylvania and the nation,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “This limited supply of vaccine signals the start of the process to end COVID-19’s devastating impacts on every community in the commonwealth. However, it is important to remember that we are still months away from being able to vaccinate all Pennsylvanians, making mitigation efforts more important than ever to save lives.”
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, Dec. 11, and was approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 13.
An EUA is used by the FDA to approve the use of medical products during a public health emergency to diagnose, treat or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions. All vaccines must undergo the EUA approval process before being fully licensed. After being approved and licensed, the FDA continues to oversee its production to ensure continued safety.
While side effects and adverse reactions are possible with the vaccine, which has gotten much heat from the public due to its quick turnaround, Levine attempted to relieve fears.
“I want to stress that in order for an EUA to be issued for a vaccine, the FDA must determine that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine,” Levine said. “With advanced technology available today, the FDA is able to expedite its review process of thoroughly analyzing the safety and efficacy results of clinical trials. We all want the pandemic to end, and a COVID-19 vaccine is the next tool in our COVID-19 toolkit to achieve that goal.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com