December 15, 2020 – At 11:20 am, University of Utah Health vaccinated its first round of frontline health care staff after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine just hours earlier.
The first supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived shortly after 7:00 am at University Hospital. A representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) witnessed the transfer of the vaccine from a shipping container into the negative 70º freezer inside the hospital’s secured central pharmacy. Per CDC guidelines, the vaccine had to then sit in the freezer for two hours before it could be taken out, thawed, and prepared to administer to patients.
Christy Mulder, a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit (MICU) at U of U Health, was the first frontline health care worker in the state of Utah to be vaccinated. “On one hand, it’s an honor to care for the community during this time,” Mulder says. “But on the other hand, we’re tired and drained—emotionally and physically. To get a vaccine, it’s overwhelming because it’s the beginning of an end.” Four other U of U Health care workers, including an emergency physician, respiratory therapist, health care assistant, and environmental services worker, were among the first group to receive the vaccine. “The reason why all of us stepped up to be the first is to be an example not only to our fellow workers and providers, but also our patients and the public,” says Stephen Hartsell, MD, an emergency physician at U of U Health. Two U of U Health pharmacy residents administered the vaccine to the first five patients.
Following those patients, several dozen staff in the MICU and COVID-19 units at University Hospital were vaccinated. U of U Health plans to run a smaller clinic that will vaccinate 300-500 staff by the end of the week and then run a larger clinic that will vaccinate 500-800 staff in the coming weeks. “We want to be as efficient as possible,” says Kavish Choudhary, PharmD, senior director of pharmacy at U of U Health. “We have 19,000 employees who need the vaccine in a short amount of time.”
Because of a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines and logistical constraints, the vaccine will be distributed in phases. The first wave includes health care workers who have direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials. The vaccine will be optional for U of U Health care workers and will not be mandated at this time. The vaccine will be distributed more widely as more supplies become available.
U of U Health care workers will get the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines 21 days after receiving the first dose. Although the vaccine is 95% effective, vaccinated individuals will still need to continue wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing, washing hands regularly, and staying home when sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still needs a better understanding about vaccine protection before changing its recommendations on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
U of U Health had been working on a vaccine rollout plan in preparation for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A second vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, has filed an EUA and may also become available soon. If given EUA, it is anticipated that the Moderna vaccine will be distributed to hospitals that are not part of U of U Health.