The largest vaccination campaign in US history kicked off Monday, with health workers rolling up their sleeves to get shots to protect them from COVID-19 and begin to conquer the pandemic – a day of optimism even as the nation’s death toll approaches 300,000.
“I feel hopeful today.” Critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay said, “I felt relieved” after she was shot in the arm at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.
With the countdown to “3-2-1,” workers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center gave their first injections of applause.
And in a suburb of New Orleans, Stephen Lee, a pharmacist in the intensive care unit at Uchsner Medical Center, summed up the moment he got his own vaccine: “We can finally prevent disease rather than cure it.”
Other hospitals across the country, from Rhode Island to Texas, have emptied precious, frozen vials of vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. And its German partner, BioNTech, with intermittent deliveries throughout the day and Tuesday. Few countries have approved the vaccine, including Britain, which began vaccinating people last week, and Canada, which began doing so on Monday.
For health care workers, who, along with residents of nursing homes, will be first to receive the vaccination, hope alleviates the grief and immense fatigue of the months they spent fighting the Coronavirus that is still increasing in the United States and around the world.
This is the 24th mile of the marathon. People are exhausted. “But we also know that this end is in sight,” said Dr. Chris Dale of Swedish Health Services in Seattle.
Packed in dry ice to stay in freezing temperatures, the first of nearly 3 million doses shipped are a down payment on the required amount. More Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive every week. Later this week, the FDA will decide whether to greenlight the world’s second carefully studied COVID-19 vaccine, which is manufactured by Moderna Inc.
While the United States hopes to have enough of both vaccines together to immunize 20 million people by the end of the month, there will not be enough for the average person to get an injection until spring.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a long tunnel,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The hurdle now is getting the vaccine quickly into the arms of millions, not just doctors and nurses but other vulnerable health workers like cleaners and food handlers – and then administering a second dose three weeks later.
“We’re also in the middle of an increase, and these holidays, our health care workers are working at an extraordinary pace,” said Sue Mashney, chief pharmacy officer at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
Additionally, the injections can cause temporary fever, fatigue and aches because they stimulate people’s immune systems, forcing hospitals to regulate employee vaccinations.
The cautious public will watch closely to see if health workers are adopting vaccinations. Only half of Americans say they want to be vaccinated, while a quarter do not and the rest are unsure, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Health Research.
The US Food and Drug Administration, considered the world’s most stringent medical regulator, said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was developed at breakneck speed less than a year after the virus was identified, appears strongly safe and preventive, and the agency put the data out in a full day to the public. Last week’s meeting for scientists and consumers alike to see.