Memorial Healthcare began vaccinating employees this week

The history-making Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine launched at Memorial Healthcare System, one of five hospital hosts in Florida.

As previously reported, Memorial Healthcare System launched its COVID-19 vaccine program for frontline staff this week. It is one of only five healthcare systems in Florida chosen by the governor’s office as host for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine (pictured above).

At a news conference announcing the program this week, CEO Aurelio Fernandez said receiving vaccines is a historic event for the healthcare system, which saw its first COVID-19 patient on March 7.

“[Memorial employees] were true heroes,” he said. “Now for the first time we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. This is going to be a long journey. It’s not over by any means but, nevertheless, it is the beginning of something that’s going to be very, very positive.”

The vaccine will be given to employees that work in critical care areas and Memorial physicians.

Interim chief medical officer Dr. Thomas Macaluso said Memorial received 19,500 doses that will be administered to medical staff, nursing staff and clinicians and workers at risk from contracting or spreading COVID-19 to a patient.

“This vaccine has been shown to be 94% effective. Pretty much everybody except someone who’s had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine is eligible to get it,” Macaluso said. “It’s been studied in over 30,000 people in phrase three trials. It is safe. There are excepted side effects similar to [those of] other vaccines, but I want to encourage our employees to take advantage of this great opportunity. This vaccine and the other vaccines that come down the pipeline are really going to be the key tool to ending this pandemic.”

At the news conference, Fernandez said the hospital estimated it would use about 7,000 doses, projecting half its employees would receive it. In about 20 days, the hospital will receive a shipment of the second dose of the vaccine. The remaining doses will be distributed to five hospitals: Cleveland Clinic, Broward Health Medical Center, Westside Regional Medical Center, Holy Cross Health and Florida Medical Center. Broward Health started giving employees the vaccine later in the week.

Ultimately, said Dorinda Segovia, vice president of pharmacy services, said that even with the vaccine, masks will still need to be worn for protection against the virus.

“The vaccine will take time to create immunity,” Segovia said. “We also do not know what kind of exposure we have had [to the virus] until the time of [receiving the vaccine]. So masks on at all times. It doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated. That’s the way we’re going to protect our families and our communities.”

This is because, as chief of infectious disease Dr. Paula Eckardt says, the clinical trials “do not give us any information about transmission after vaccination. So the recommendation by the CDC is we should continue wearing masks … until more information comes about and more people get vaccinated.”

Keren Moros
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