(Image via UPMC/Pittsburgh City Paper)
By Amanda Waltz
PITTSBURGH — On Monday, UPMC administered Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to five frontline hospital workers, making them the first recipients in Pittsburgh, and among the first in the nation.
The mood was light as Tami Minnier, a certified registered nurse practitioner and chief quality officer at UPMC, administered Pfizer’s BNT162b2 vaccines this morning after addressing the media. While giving the shots, she chatted with one recipient, Christian Schott, an ICU nurse at UPMC Passavant, about his new baby, and complimented Ja’Ray Gamble, a patient transporter at UPMC Mercy, on the “beautiful tattoo” covering his left upper arm.
“This is truly a momentous occasion,” Minnier said, comparing it to the 1955 deployment of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, which he discovered while researching at the University of Pittsburgh.
The vaccines were delivered by a UPS truck at 9:15 a.m. this morning and were defrosted and prepared before being distributed.
After the injections, Minnier said the workers would be back in 21 days to receive the second half of the vaccine. She added that UPMC would be moving forward over the next several weeks of getting vaccines out to other high-priority employees, then to other workers, covering the estimated 92,000 medical professionals and staff members working at UPMC hospitals in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland. From there, vaccines will be distributed to the community.
“We clearly have weeks and months to go, but we are so excited to take this first step today,” Minnier said during a press conference.
Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC, expanded on the roll-out, explaining that the initial vaccine supply will be deployed in three phases.
The first will go to health care workers and residents in skilled nursing facilities and long-term care facilities, followed by a second phase aimed at essential workers. Phase three will cover vulnerable populations, particularly people over 65 with underlying medical conditions.
Despite the gradual timeline, Snyder calls the vaccine a “watershed moment for us in this pandemic,” adding, “We’re starting to see the beginning of the end.”
He also pointed out the “unprecedented” speed at which the vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective. In mid-November, Pfizer announced that its BNT162b2 vaccine, designed to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, was “95 percent effective against COVID-19 beginning 28 days after the first dose,” according to a press release. This was based on the evaluation of 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 162 observed in the placebo group versus eight in the vaccine group.
The company also noted that efficacy was “consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics,” and was found to be 94% effective in adults over 65.
The first round of Pfizer vaccines was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, with emergency shipments going out for distribution today.
The New York Times and other outlets have reported that Pfizer has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine by next March, with shots being free to the public.
Snyder assured reporters calling into the UPMC conference that manufacturers are producing the vaccines faster and in more quantities, and that they will be distributed under the guidance of regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Allegheny County Health Department.
He adds that the vaccinations cannot come fast enough, as Allegheny County and other areas of the U.S. have seen new outbreaks of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths. As of Monday, the ACHD had reported a total of 40,874 cases and 665 deaths in the county.
Vaccine recipient Manevone “Manny” Philavong, who works in environmental services at UPMC Passavant, says his dose will put him at ease knowing he has an “extra layer of protection” along with the PPE hospital workers and visitors are required to wear.
Charmaine Pykosh, an advanced nurse practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian, says her fellow critical care workers voted for her to go first, even though everyone wanted to do it.
“I’m very honored for UPMC for letting me do this, and will continue to do the proper things in terms of masking, social distancing, and washing hands,” Pykosh said.
Amanda Waltz is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.
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