On Sunday morning, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine left Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan site, on its way to distribution throughout in the U.S., after the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, approved use in the U.S.
In a statement released Sunday, Redfield said, “Last night, I was proud to sign the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation to use Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in people 16 and older. This official CDC recommendation follows Friday’s FDA decision to authorize the emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge throughout the U.S., CDC’s recommendation comes at a critical time. Initial COVID-19 vaccination is set to start as early as Monday, and this is the next step in our efforts to protect Americans, reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and help restore some normalcy to our lives and our country.”
Health care systems, pharmacies, FedEx, UPS, the military and all involved in logistics have been primed for transporting or distributing the vaccine once it arrives at respective destinations.
“Collectively, we aim to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans by the end of 2021,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer said in a December 12 news release. “With vaccinations set to begin this week, I feel a sense of tremendous pride at what we have collectively achieved over the past nine months. I now look forward to the day that this devastating and deadly pandemic is finally behind us.”
In the St. Louis area, BJC HealthCare says it will be the first hospital system to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, starting with healthcare workers who are directly involved in patient care. Other health systems have similar distribution plans.
“The way we are thinking of healthcare workers are any person who works in healthcare who has potential exposure to a patient in any capacity,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, infectious disease specialist at BJC HealthCare and professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. That includes doctors, nurses, transporters, clergy, environmental service workers who clean rooms, as well as scientists who come in contact with infectious material. Dunagan said those workers will be divided into age groups, and they will work their way down from oldest to the youngest.
In the St. Louis area, BJC HealthCare will be one of the first hospital systems to distribute the vaccine, starting with health-care workers who are directly involved in patient care.
Dunagan said while anyone who is a BJC healthcare worker will have an equal chance of getting the vaccine, employees cannot be forced into taking the two dose-COVID-19 inoculation.
“No, it’s under Emergency Use Authorization. We would never require a healthcare worker or an employee to get a medication, or vaccine or use a product that is under those circumstances,” said Dunagan. “That said, we’ve seen plenty to tell us that this is going to be a safe and effective vaccine, and so, we will strongly recommend people receive the vaccine as soon as it’s offered to them.”
With skyrocketing illness, COVID fatigue at work and at home, and heartache from irreplaceable losses due to this coronavirus, Dunagan says with the vaccine, there will eventually be decreases in overall infections.
“Anyone who gets vaccinated is probably going to be protected against any significant illness and severe disease, and if we really start with the highest risk populations, we’ll have, very quickly, an impact on the number of susceptible patients who are at risk to get hospitalized,” Dunagan said.
“The more employees we have vaccinated against the virus, the fewer healthcare workers will have to go out on medical leave because of the coronavirus. Right now, we may have several hundred employees and healthcare workers out on any given day with coronavirus or they had an exposure. This will help us avoid that.”
Liekweg, president and CEO of BJC HealthCare praised the health systems employees and what they have sacrificed and endured in 2020 due to COVID-19. “I’ve had the privilege to work with 31,000 unbelievable healthcare heroes… This new vaccine gives them hope – gives us hope, that we can get to the end of fighting this pandemic together.”
Another pending Emergency Use Authorization request, this one made by Moderna for its COVID-19 vaccine, will be considered by the FDA Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on December 17.