Einstein Staff Begin Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine
David Young usually sleeps well under his weighted blanket. But he was jolted awake at 2:30 in the morning Wednesday after dreaming that the ultracold freezer at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia where the COVID-19 vaccine was stored had malfunctioned.
Within hours, Einstein employees were scheduled to begin receiving inoculations, and it was the second time Young dreamed the freezer broke down.
You couldn’t blame him for having a case of nerves. Young is the Pharmacy Services Director responsible for storing and preparing the new and desperately awaited medicine for injection.
And although he knew better – the freezer was alarmed in case the temperature rose above the minus 94 degrees needed to preserve the vaccine – Young got out of bed, went downstairs to his computer, logged in and checked to see if the freezer was working.
And everything from then on went without a hitch, as 110 Einstein employees became among the first in the city on Wednesday, Dec.16, to receive vaccinations against the viral scourge that has crippled life as we know it.
Cheers and applause broke out among the small group of healthcare workers gathered in Gouley Auditorium when Antoine Miller became the first Einstein employee – among the first individuals in Philadelphia – to get the injection from Patrice Juliani, a nurse in labor and delivery.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration last week, and Einstein’s first batch of 1,950 doses arrived Monday.
“I’m excited, said Miller, who has witnessed the devastation of COVID-19 first-hand as a technician in the Critical Care Unit. He works with the sickest virus patients, who are on respirators, rotating their beds so they can be on their stomachs – a practice called “proning” – so they can breathe better. Miller was, frankly, apprehensive about getting the vaccine, but, he said, “I did it to protect myself and my family.”
Starting at 8 a.m., the first batch of employees signed in at a table outside the large auditorium and were personally escorted to one of four stations, where volunteer nurses awaited to give them injections.
The first recipients were the physicians, nurses, technicians, respiratory therapists, security personnel and others who are directly exposed to COVID patients or whose age or medical conditions make them vulnerable to serious complications if they contract the disease.
None of them flinched, one of them got teary at the significance of the moment, many of them recorded the historical moment on their cell phones, and all of them said it felt just like a regular flu vaccine.
Afterwards, they were directed to sign up at another table to get their second dose, which must be received in 21 days. They were then directed to sit in socially distanced chairs for 15 minutes to make sure they didn’t have an allergic reaction – emergency equipment and personnel were on site just in case – and then were permitted to go back to work.
“I love it,” said Loraine Hopkins-Pepe, Director of Nursing Education and Development, who was giving vaccinations at Table 2. “I feel so happy to be part of the solution.”
Hopkins-Pepe was one of two dozen employees from all departments across the Einstein Healthcare Network who were part of the Vaccine Task Force that had been planning for this day for three months. Of Einstein’s 8,700 employees, who were all queried about their interest in getting the vaccine, more than 5,000 have already responded – 71% said yes and 29% declined but may opt in at any time.
Steven Sivak, MD, head of Einstein Physicians Philadelphia and chair of the Vaccine Task Force, said more outreach is planned. As he observed the vaccinations, he was visibly pleased at how smoothly things were going on the day that could be the beginning of the end of the 2020 siege of COVID-19.
“This is amazing,” he said.