VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — As health care facilities across the country begin receiving and administering this first U.S. doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sentara Healthcare was the first in Hampton Roads to get its shipment.
Hospital officials said FedEx delivered 11,700 doses of vaccine at 7:04 a.m. Monday and those are in the process of being distributed to the health system’s hospitals. The doses will almost cover the 12,500 priority front-line healthcare workers at Sentara, and Norfolk General Hospital was expected to starting giving the shots in Virginia to health care workers on Tuesday afternoon.
Sentara was among the first in line and had to get special freezers to hold the vaccine, which requires minus 100 degree temperatures. Bon Secours in Hampton Roads received their doses on Tuesday, and said it was working to administer them as soon as possible.
Riverside, the other major health chain in the region, was still waiting on their shipment. They will be getting about 2,900 doses.
Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner of Population Health at the Virginia Department of Health, said 18 geographically diverse sites should receive a total of 72,150 doses by Tuesday.
“We’re thrilled that the vaccine is here and there is a lot of excitement around this but it’s still critical to maintain the prevention strategies that we have in place,” Forlano said.
Front-line hospital workers will be the first to receive the vaccine. Sentara says 80-85% of workers said they were interested in the vaccine, but it’s not mandatory, officials emphasized.
Tim Jennings, Sentara Healthcare’s vice president of pharmacy, thinks what is unfolding across the country is unprecedented.
“It is completely unpredicted to get a drug that quickly, and is fully remarkable that something has come out this quickly that it was able to be studied and developed,” Jennings said.
Cynthia Williams is Riverside’s vice president and chief pharmacy officer. She said the vaccine’s arrival is exciting.
“We are very excited to be able to bring this vaccine to our team members, and to the greater community at large. As greater quantities are received, we will expand the additional priority groups as they are approved,” Williams said.
Williams told us the 2,900 doses in the first delivery will not cover the 5,000 Riverside employees who are considered front-line medical workers and eligible for the vaccine. Additional shipments will cover them, and then start expanding out to cover others as approved by the CDC.
Sentara expects it will receive 20,800 additional doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 21.
Virginia celebrates vaccine arrival
The vaccine also arrived at other hospitals in Virginia Monday. The state’s initial allotment of 72,150 doses would be distributed Monday and Tuesday.
In total, Virginia health systems expect to receive an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, by the end of December, the governor’s office said Monday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was present at a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond Monday to welcome a vaccine delivery.
“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Northam. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Yet even in this moment of celebration, we must remember that this is the first step in a months-long process to receive, distribute, and administer the vaccine as it becomes available. I ask everyone to stay vigilant, take care of each other, and continue following the public health guidelines as we work to vaccinate Virginians in a safe, efficient, equitable manner.”
Julian Walker with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association told WAVY sister station 8News that vaccine shipments will be spread out over the next couple of days. Some Virginia hospitals have already received their vaccine shipment while others won’t get theirs until Tuesday or Wednesday.
The VHHA says a hospital in the Richmond area and Sentara Healthcare in Hampton Roads both already have the vaccine.
Upon arrival the vaccines are placed in climate controlled storage. Some vaccines will stay at the hospitals and others will be redistributed within their health system and region.
Walker says as soon as the vaccines are properly redistributed and stored they can begin being administered through vaccination clinics.
The Virginia Medical Disaster Advisory Committee has already decided who will get them first, based on CDC recommendations.
The committee’s resolution released last week said, “The initial shipment of Pfizer vaccine should be distributed in its entirety to Virginia hospitals and health systems for administration to healthcare personnel who directly engage in the care of or interact with patients known or suspected of COVID-19, or who have direct exposure to potentially infectious materials from patients known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.”
Those prioritized to receive the vaccine in Virginia also include long-term care facility residents.
Some eligible for the vaccine may still choose to wait before getting it.
“Internal surveys of hospitals indicate that some healthcare workers are skeptical and want to wait,” Walker said.
UVA Hospital Epidemiology Director Dr. Costi Sifri is co-chairing a safety and efficacy subcommittee within Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Workgroup. The subcommittee met on Friday to review data submitted to the FDA before Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized for emergency use.
Dr. Sifri said, even though this is the first authorized vaccine that uses mRNA, the intervention has been studied for decades.
Asked about concerns over the speed of the clinical trial, Sifri said, “The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been every bit as rigorous as other vaccine trails and so that has given us great confidence.”
While the subcommittee is comfortable with Pfizer’s vaccine being administered, Sifri said their work is not done. He said they will continue to evaluate emergency use authorizations as applications are submitted.
Sifri said there are still many unanswered questions about the vaccine, including how it could impact pregnant women, children and those with suppressed immune systems. He said it’s also too soon to tell if it will prevent person-to-person transmission and it’s still unclear how long the immunization’s protection will last.