Frontline caregivers get vaccinated

Frontline caregivers at Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Gettysburg Hospitals waiting for the first COVID-19 vaccinations were in good spirits and excited Friday morning.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for months,” Dr. Eugene Curley, Medical Director of Infection Control for WellSpan Health, said in a Zoom press conference. “There were a lot of questions but the response has overwhelmingly positive.”

Doctors, nurses and other frontline caregivers have worked long and hard caring for COVID-19 patients, dealing with deaths of many.

“There was hope and excitement today,” Curley said, citing a steep rise in cases during the last month. “We should see hundreds (of front-line hospital workers) vaccinated by the end of the day Saturday.”

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Front-line caregivers get vaccinated
Dr. Ashish Behari, a urology physician, is administered the COVID-19 vaccine Friday morning at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital. (Submitted photo)

WellSpan received 975 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for each of its seven hospitals this week. Frontline caregivers will get two doses of the vaccine.

Curley expects the health care organization to get an equal number of doses (6,825 total) in three weeks. That’s when those who get shots this weekend will get their second dose. WellSpan decided to use all of the current supply to vaccinate as many people as possible this weekend.

“This first dose will be about 52% effective within the first seven days,” he said. “Then within a week after the second dose it becomes 95% effective.”

Front-line caregivers get vaccinated
Allen Arslanian, a nurse anesthetist, receives the COVID-19 vaccine Friday morning at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital. (Submitted photo)

Moderna vaccine expected soon

The FDA has just approved a second vaccine made by Moderna. Curley expects WellSpan will get initial supplies of the Moderna vaccine soon.

Although the two vaccines use the same type of technology, those vaccinated with the initial Pfizer vaccine will receive a second dose of that vaccine, not Moderna’s.

Frontline caregivers receiving the initial Pfizer vaccine shots volunteered and made appointments. The first shot was given at 6 a.m. Friday, with appointments half an hour apart at each hospital. Doctors and nurses at the hospitals will work in five-hour shifts, with two shifts scheduled each day.

The caregiver came in, got the injection and then was monitored for side effects for 15 minutes. The process will continue on Saturday. The first vaccinations were reserved for caregivers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

The vaccine will be offered to other WellSpan employees as more becomes available. Employees volunteer to be vaccinated, Curley said. It is not required and those who don’t want to be vaccinated can opt out.

Curley emphasized that WellSpan’s administration read the recently released information filed with Pfizer’s FDA application and feel the vaccine is safe.

“The data shows it is effective and side effects are similar to other vaccines,” he said.

COVID- 19 vaccinations begin
Registered nurse Kelly Smith administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Michele Coletta, a clinical coordinator registered nurse, Friday morning at WellSpan Waynesboro Hospital. (Submitted photo)

Concern for holidays

The vaccine’s approval and release just before Christmas is a good sign.

“We have been very concerned about the holidays,” Curley said. “”Ever since March there have been surges in cases about 10 to 14 days after each holiday. We expect the same after Christmas.”

Hospitalization rates and deaths have surged anyway over the last month. Chambersburg Hospital was treating 85 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, Gettysburg Hospital had 35 and Waynesboro Hospital had 16.

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