Health care systems in Greenville have received the COVID-19 vaccine and have begun immunizing health workers on a day some officials have celebrated as a turning point in the monthslong pandemic that has affected every corner of the world.
Prisma Health announced on Tuesday, Dec. 15, that it had received almost 10,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the vaccine on Dec. 11.
In a Zoom conference call in the afternoon, doctors and personnel from the health system were smiling as they announced that the first vaccines had been given out earlier in the day.
Referring to the day as “V-Day,” Dr. Saria Saccocio, ambulatory chief medical officer and leader of the COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force at Prisma, said, “It has been exciting to see and hear the news that team members have received those shots in arms.
“I just can’t wait to see us be able to vaccinate not only our health care workers, but, as we continue through the coming months, we can reach out to the public at large, in our community, [and] the people who need us most,” Saccocio said. She said that regardless of insurance status, the vaccine will be free to all.
With the excitement also came caution.
“I’m an infectious disease doctor. I can tell you that life expectancy in the last 100 years has doubled, and there’s only two things that has done this: clean water and vaccines,” said Prisma’s Dr. Helmut Albrecht, who also leads the University of South Carolina School of Medicine’s academic department of internal medicine. Regardless of the vaccine, he said, COVID-19 is still “killing more people per day than 911.”
The vaccine, according to Albrecht, will not replace safety precautions such as wearing face masks, physical distancing 6 feet away from others and washing hands often. He said that there is still have more work to do to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Experts at Prisma said that the COVID-19 vaccine went to workers who saw coronavirus patients every day, and it’ll go first to those working in the COVID-19 unit. This will be followed by employees in the Intensive Care Unit and those in the emergency department. Ambulance crews and employees who conduct COVID-19 tests will also be immunized.
Dr. Jessica Hobbs, an emergency medicine physician at Prisma, works at Greenville Memorial Hospital where she says Prisma sees the highest number of COVID-19 patients who come to an emergency department. “It’s been a really long road for the emergency medicine staff. We’ve been taking care of these patients for months and months, and it’s getting really hard to stay positive,” she said. The vaccine, though, has helped.
“It’s really been kind of a ray of sunshine and a bright hope for us to get the vaccine because this is one of the positive things that we can do to help keep our community safe and keep each other safe,” she said.
While medical experts celebrated the vaccinations, many of those in the general population are apprehensive about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. A Gallup poll from Nov. 17 found 58% of Americans said they’d take the vaccine, up from 50% in September.
In order to generate trust in the Greenville community, Soccacio said that community leaders should “step forward, stick out your arm and receive the vaccine.”
A spokesperson from Bon Secours St. Francis confirmed that the health system received 1,000 doses this week. “We will begin working to administer them as soon as possible once on-site, following a tiered prioritization framework that offers first access to front-line staff. Associates providing care to patients with COVID-19 and associates directly involved in that environment will be in the earliest phases of vaccine distribution,” the spokesperson said.
It’ll be months until the general public will have access to the vaccine, according to experts. Children are not recommended to receive the vaccine. Those who have had previous allergic reactions to vaccines should also be cautious and bring an EpiPen with them in case a reaction does occur.
Common side effects reported with the Pfzier and BioNTech vaccine include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. Once the first dose is taken, a second dose is required three weeks later. Side effects have tended to appear after the second dose, according to the FDA.
You can find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine at https://www.fda.gov/media/144414/download.