After months of caution, constraint, worry and wait, vaccine for COVID-19 has made its way to Central Virginia.
Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital received its allotment of the corporation’s first 11,700 doses of vaccine Monday afternoon, about seven hours after they arrived at corporate headquarters in Norfolk.
University of Virginia Medical Center officials say they expect the first doses Tuesday morning. Both organizations hope to begin with a few vaccinations Tuesday and then increase the number of employees who get the shots beginning Wednesday.
Both plan to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health guidelines by starting with doctors, nurses and support staff in COVID units.
“We are very, very excited. We get to start working toward the herd immunity, which will take time, but it’s a move in the right direction,” said Mary Morin, head of Sentara’s COVID-19 task force. “We’ve identified our high-risk health care workers and we have 12,520 [company-wide]. Everyone in that group will get vaccinated first and we can get about 94% in the first group.”
At UVa, “We expect our shipment to arrive around noon Tuesday, and vaccinations are scheduled to begin mid-afternoon Tuesday,” said Eric Swensen, Medical Center spokesman.
The vaccine was developed and manufactured by Pfizer and is the first to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency guidelines. A second vaccine, developed and manufactured by Moderna, is expected to be approved later this week and to ship out next week.
Both vaccines require two doses. Pfizer’s second dose should be given in 21 days and Moderna’s second dose in 28 days, officials said.
Morin said Sentara’s frontline employees who miss the first-round of Pfizer vaccines will be first in line for the Moderna shots, of which the company expects to receive 20,800. Health care workers at the company’s hospitals and ancillary offices will be in the second wave of vaccinations, officials said.
“We’ll be offering [shots] seven days a week at various times of the day to help those employees who don’t just work normal hours,” Morin said. “We expect the Moderna vaccine Dec. 21 and the second doze of Pfizer to come in the next few days that we’ll use for the second doses in 21 days.”
Although the CDC has not officially recommended who should receive the vaccine first once health care and at-risk people receive theirs, pandemic planning documents indicate public safety officers — such as paramedics, police officers and firefighters — would be soon to follow, as would those in other essential occupations.
The vaccine is expected to be available to the general public by early summer as manufacturing of the shots increases.
“The vaccines we’re getting in now, and those in January and February, will be made available for those in the first phase,” Morin said. “We expect late in the first quarter or early in the second of 2021 is when the vaccine will be widely available to the public.”
The Thomas Jefferson Health District will be responsible for getting vaccines to the public when the time comes. That time is not now.
“We have not received any vaccine yet,” said Kathryn Goodman, TJHD spokeswoman. “Long-term care facilities will get their vaccines directly, as they will be administered through contracts with pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. They will likely get vaccines over the next few weeks. We are preparing for when we will receive the vaccine, which is still to be determined but in the near future.”
Both Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and the UVa Medical Center routinely provide other vaccinations for staff members and will use the current organizational structure to get the COVID inoculations into employees’ arms.
“We’re starting with high-risk caregivers for COVID patients and we’re making sure to get all of the health care team members who work with those patients,” said Wendy Horton, UVa Medical Center chief executive officer.
Employees at both medical institutions are not required to get the vaccine, officials said. Sentara said a survey last month indicated that more than 80% of employees are ready to get their shots.
In testing on humans, both vaccines have shown near 95% effective rates, according to the FDA and CDC.
“If we can get a good 80% of our health care employees vaccinated, that’s well on the way to herd immunity,” said Tim Jennings, vice president and chief pharmacy officer for Sentara. “This is the most efficacious vaccine that’s been brought to market, and I think once employees understand that, they will want to receive it.”
Both Sentara and UVa officials say that employees will continue to wear personal protective gear on the job and should continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing after being vaccinated.
“Those are efforts that everyone can take that can make a big difference in limiting the surge and the number of people hospitalized,” Horton said. “It really does make a difference.”