Since the pandemic began, Michelle Conley witnessed patients with COVID-19 deteriorate in health as cases surged at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital, while on the outside, so many people remained indifferent to the pandemic’s safety measures. But last week, she saw the first sign that hope was ahead.
Conley, Chief Nursing Officer at Jefferson Torresdale, was one of about 350 staff members at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital to have taken the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination by last Friday morning. With the first shipment of the vaccine came a feeling of optimism for Conley.
“On Wednesday morning when the first vaccine shipment came, there was an energy I don’t think we had felt for almost a year,” Conley said.
For Conley and many other healthcare workers across the country, the vaccine could represent the end of what has so far been a nine-month battle that felt like no end was in sight. More than 5,700 cases were reported in Philadelphia just last week, with 1,629 more reported over the weekend. The city says 2,223 residents have died due to the virus, while the number has surpassed 300,000 dead nationally.
“Watching people not be able to breathe when there’s only so much you can do, it’s really hard,” Conley said.
Like other hospitals in Northeast Philadelphia, Jefferson Torresdale prioritized distributing the dosages to healthcare workers who are exposed to patients with the virus. Nazareth Hospital received 220 doses of the vaccine last Wednesday and gave more than 200 of them by the end of the week.
“There was some trepidation about taking the vaccine early on, but I would say by Monday we started to get phone calls to get employees scheduled,” said Dr. Edward O’Dell, chief medical officer at Nazareth Hospital.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received authorization on Dec. 11, with a vaccine produced by Moderna receiving authorization one week later. Both vaccines require two doses that are taken several weeks apart.
Pfizer said it shipped out 2.9 million doses of the vaccine in the first week. The U.S. expects to vaccinate about 20 million people by the end of the year, with an additional 20 to 25 million people expected to be vaccinated in January.
St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia received 185 doses last Tuesday, with another batch of 185 doses expected in the near future. Dr. Oge Menkiti, attending neonatologist and perinatologist at the hospital, received the vaccine last week and said he gets many questions about the safety of the vaccine.
“It’s a great first step,” said Dr. Menkiti, who lives with his children and elderly mother with his wife, who is also a healthcare provider.
Vaccines are critical in helping the population achieve herd immunity to a virus, which, when enough people are immune, will prevent or drastically slow the virus from being passed on. Vaccines are expected to become available to the public by April 2021.
“As healthcare workers, we have a tremendous opportunity to serve as role models for patients and families we serve in communities. In getting the vaccine, we’re showing it’s safe,” said Ingrid McGovern, chief nursing officer at St. Christopher’s. ••