Boston Medical Center (BMC) in the South End received the area’s first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine on Monday morning, taking it into cold storage immediately and, on Wednesday, beginning the first rounds of vaccinations on staff members.
Registered Nurse Cheryl Tull was the first BMC employee to get the vaccine around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16. She is also the Associate Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital. The first five vaccinations at BMC were given to Tull, a Family medicine doctor, an Infectious Diseases doctor, a respiratory therapist, and an environmental services employee whose job it is to disinfect patient rooms.
BMC said it expects to vaccinate 1,000 employees through Saturday, and a total of 2,000 by the end of next week. In the next two months, a spokesman said they expect to vaccinate 6,000 patient-facing employees using guidance from the state.
Mass General Hospital (MGH) followed suit in receiving its shipment on Tuesday morning, and also planning to start immunizations of workers at the hospital on Wednesday.
BMC said it received 1,950 doses Monday morning and also planned to equitably disperse them throughout the front-line workers at the hospital, a process that started Wednesday morning.
“Monday morning, Boston Medical Center received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine,” read a statement. “Beginning Wednesday, we will begin the first wave of vaccinations to front line health care workers, a group including doctors and nurses from our ICU and Emergency Department and patient floors that treat COVID-19 patients, but just as importantly, employees from environmental and support services, and other crucial positions that work in COVID-positive patient areas.”
The doses were put into a freezer at the BMC inpatient pharmacy.
Mass General Brigham (MGH) confirmed on Tuesday it had received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Mass General Brigham received an initial shipment of nearly 9,000 vaccine doses to be allocated proportionally across the 12 hospitals in its system. They also began vaccinating health care workers at the hospitals on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Community Health Centers like the South End Community Health Center – a subsidiary of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center – has been planning for their role in receiving and vaccinating workers and the public. Community health centers are expected to play a large role in the coming weeks and months as the general population starts to qualify for the vaccine.
“We are taking important steps to prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure its equitable distribution throughout our communities,” said East Boston Neighborhood Health Center CEO and President Manny Lopes, who is also the chair of the Boston Board of Health. “We have a specific team that will manage all aspects of the vaccine, from preparing for its arrival through to administering doses to our communities. Our Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Agreement has been approved, so we are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available. This is an important step in ensuring the safety of our communities, especially our patients that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
The Chief Medical Officer for the health center, Jackie Fantes said they are awaiting direction from the state Department of Public Health. She said the health center plans to vaccinate their staff and high-risk patients first.
“The big questions about how and when we will administer the vaccine will depend greatly on the guidelines developed by our partners at the Mass Department of Public Health as well as the amount of supply,” she said. “We now serve more than 100,000 patients at our East Boston, South End, Revere and Winthrop facilities. Our priority will be to administer the vaccine first to our staff and patients at high risk of complications from COVID-19, such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. It is also important to us to focus on vulnerable populations like those in essential worker roles or those living in multi-generational households who cannot isolate.”
In an historic press conference on Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Dr. Moncef Slaoui and General Gustave Perna – all members of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine team – reported on the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
The reported that 2.9 million doses of the vaccine had been shipped and another 2.9 million would be held back for the second booster dose that will be given to those inoculated in 21 to 28 days. The Pfizer vaccine requires an initial shot and a second booster for full immunity, they said.
Those shipments would continue through Tuesday, and Wednesday and the rest of the week likely, Perna said. He said they have used a public/private partnership with the federal government, UPS and FedEx to distribute the doses, and now are entering into a “steady drumbeat” of constant shipments as the days and weeks go on.
“The point here is the initial push that we have shows we can execute,” he said. “Now we’re starting our drumbeat of continuous shipments of vaccine.”
All vaccine shipments destinations and dosage amounts are determined by each state’s governor, they said. For Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker issues an initial priority list last week that is now being followed in the first dosages. There were 636 sites across the United States identified to Operation Warp Speed, with 145 getting shipments on Monday.
There were 425 that would receive shipments on Tuesday, and 66 on Wednesday.
All expected the Moderna vaccine, also a two-shot program, to get emergency use authorization by the weekend, and that would start to be shipped out by next Monday, Dec. 21. There would be approximately 100 million doses of that vaccine available initially as there has been more time to manufacture in the run-up to authorization.
They expected to be able to vaccinate 100 million people by the end of the 1st quarter of 2021. That will be bolstered if a Johnson & Johnson vaccine – a one shot program – is approved for emergency use in late January or early February. Another vaccine by AstraZeneca is also on the same timetable and could be in use before the end of the first quarter, Slaoui said.
Meanwhile, Azar said they are confident they will have enough vaccine for anyone that wants it and that no American would have to pay for the vaccine if they want it.
“No American faces an out of pocket expense for this vaccine,” Azar said.
The Centers for Disease Control has authorized $140 million to pay for long-term planning for the vaccine. Meanwhile, Operation Warp Speed is paying for the vaccine cost and all of the supplies, including syringes and other materials.