By Carol Vaughn —
An initial allotment of 72,150 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived Monday and Tuesday at health systems across Virginia.
The vaccine was to be administered to frontline health care workers starting as early as Tuesday, according to a press release from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.
“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” Northam said, adding, “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.”
Health care workers who directly care for COVID-19 patients will receive top priority.
Virginia expects to receive around 480,000 doses of vaccine from two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, by the end of December.
That should be enough to begin the vaccination process for nearly all health care workers and long-term care facility residents, according to the release.
Riverside Health System received its first shipment of the vaccine early Tuesday morning.
With the vaccine’s arrival, Riverside officials anticipated the health system beginning the first vaccinations of frontline healthcare workers later in the week and continuing to do so throughout the next few weeks, according to spokesperson Savannah Lentz.
“Most of the work until the vaccine was received yesterday was around finalizing all of our documents, our clinic work flow — all of the details needed too get these clinics up and running,” said Cindy Williams, Riverside Health System vice president and chief pharmacy officer, Wednesday.
The FDA approved emergency use authorization late Friday for the Pfizer vaccine, setting in motion “a very busy weekend” for Riverside staff, she said.
Staff, including at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital did “dry runs” over the last couple of days to practice and prepare for receiving and distributing the vaccine.
“We are in the process right now of packing up the first distribution product to send out to all five regions and we will have immunizations starting on the Eastern Shore tomorrow, focused on frontline health care workers within the health system,” Williams said Wednesday.
Once Riverside got access to all the tools provided by Pfizer, which the company could not fully release until after the FDA authorized the vaccine’s use, and with the health system following the process outlined in those documents, “yesterday, everything went just like clockwork,” Williams said.
Pfizer’s information, including videos, about how to receive and handle the vaccine “was very straightforward and it worked just as we thought it would, which was nice,” she said.
Riverside employees have shown “overwhelming support” in terms of making appointments to receive the vaccine themselves, according to Williams.
“Within the first 12 hours of us opening up the clinic slots, we had over 700 frontline team members in those high-priority groups sign up for clinic times, so I really do think there’s a lot of energy around this,” she said.
“Seeing the number of our physicians that have already…signed up, really stepping up to be the first to receive the vaccine, …that’s quite exciting,” Williams said.
Riverside will collaborate with the local health department on strategies to vaccinate health care workers from other organizations, including EMS providers among others, “making sure that vaccine is available and that we can get as many health care providers in our community vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Williams said.
Getting the second vaccine, the one produced by Moderna, approved by the FDA is something Riverside officials look forward to because the Moderna vaccine “doesn’t have quite as stringent cold chain issues,” Williams said, adding, “I think that is going to help us as far as that greater community outreach.”