UMMC begins vaccinating frontline employees for COVID-19
Published on Wednesday, December 16, 2020
By: Annie Oeth, firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s fight against the spread of COVID-19 got hundreds of shots in the arm today, as the vaccination of front-line employees began.
"This feels like a day of celebration and a day of some good news,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, during a news conference streamed on Facebook live earlier today. “We have had, this year, a few opportunities to share good news, but when it comes to this pandemic, there is nothing that has compared to today, when we are finally able to distribute vaccine to some of our employees. This is what I hope and pray and believe is a turning point in our experience with this pandemic. I think this is how we are going to get through to the other side.”
The Medical Center’s allotment of 780 vials of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech – enough for 3,900 doses – arrived Monday and has been stored in an ultra-cold freezer on the UMMC campus in preparation for vaccinations this week.
“Today represents a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Alan Jones, assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “Usually I talk about how many ICU beds we’re down and how we’re tired, and while that’s all true, I feel like there’s been a shot of energy imparted into our staff today, because we finally feel like we have something to offer each other and the community to get us to the other side of this pandemic.”
Shipment and storage of the vials has “posed a pretty significant logistical challenge, not just for the Medical Center but for all of the state and around the country,” said Jonathan Wilson, chief administrative officer. “This vaccine from Pfizer arrived in ultra-cold storage in a special shipping container with dry ice to maintain a low temperature. It also contained a GPS tracker and a thermometer so that UPS and FedEx could monitor the status of the shipment. Once it arrived, our Department of Pharmacy removed it from the dry ice container and into an ultra-cold freezer.”
One of the benefits of being an academic medical center, Wilson said, is that its research and clinical laboratories already had the freezers required.
UMMC employees have been granted the option to receive the vaccine through a tiered system with those designated as highest risk – for example, those coming in daily contact with known or suspected COVID-19 patients – given highest priority. At this time only highest risk employees are eligible to schedule vaccination appointments.
An employee COVID-19 vaccine clinic started operations this afternoon in the lobby area of the Blair E. Batson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi. The former lobby for the children’s hospital has not been in use since November and is separated from Children’s of Mississippi patients and their families by temporary walls.
The COVID-19 vaccine clinic includes 10 private cubicles where the vaccine is administered. Each hour, up to six vaccinations can be given in each cubicle for a maximum of 60 inoculations per hour.
The COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory for UMMC employees, but it is strongly encouraged by Medical Center leadership. Proper mask usage, along with handwashing, social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions, will still be required after employees receive the vaccine.
Woodward said the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine does not mean that the community should stop following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines such as wearing face masks and social distancing, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine showed 95 percent efficacy against COVID-19 after two doses taken 21 days apart. The vaccine prompts the body’s immune system to create antibodies against COVID-19 just as if the person had been exposed, using messenger RNA, or mRNA. The vaccine does not include live virus.
Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, medical director for Infection Prevention, was the first front line provider at UMMC to receive the vaccine. Viewers of a town hall livestream this morning were able to see her receiver her vaccination in real time.
“The reason I decided that I needed to get this vaccine is based on science,” she said. “I completely believe and have full confidence in those clinical trials, which were performed by the Pfizer-BioNTech research scientists. It has shown that this vaccine is extremely effective, 95 percent after the second dose, and it is extremely safe.”
Dr. Andrew Wilhelm, associate professor of pulmonary medicine and medical director of UMMC’s medical intensive care unit, was vaccinated not long after. “This feels good,” he said. “It feels like we have made a significant step toward ending this pandemic.”
Woodward received her vaccination on Monday from the Mississippi Department of Health.
“I didn’t feel anything,” she said of the injection. “I had a little bit of arm soreness afterward, but less than the soreness from my most recent flu shot.”
Dr. Driscoll DeVaul, director of respiratory therapy, received the vaccine this morning and encouraged others to get the vaccine when it becomes available.
“Stopping the pandemic requires using all of the resources available,” he said. “The current vaccine that we have and following the CDC guidelines gives us the best chance to provide the best care possible in a safe way to our patient and also to protect ourselves and our families.”