South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday January 19, 2021
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January 2021 - Volume 17 - Issue 7
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COVID-19 Vaccine: The Key to Ending the Pandemic

It might have seemed like a typical Monday morning as the FedEx truck rolled into a warehouse district in Miramar, but it wasn’t.

As the driver unloaded the precious cargo and Memorial Healthcare System pharmacy professionals prepared to distribute its contents to those who had been on the COVID-19 front lines for more than nine months, it was clear this could be the turning point in the war against the coronavirus. It was, in the words of one who witnessed it, a “once-in-a-lifetime transaction.”
 
The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine had arrived in South Florida.
 
It was an occasion we had spent months preparing for, and anticipating longer than that. Specialty sub-zero freezer equipment had been purchased and installed, staff had been trained, and the logistics of inoculating what can ultimately be 1,100 people per day worked out.
If this was to be our moment in public health history, we were ready.
 
At the Forefront              
Memorial (www.mhs.net) was one of only five healthcare systems in Florida chosen to host and distribute the vaccine, which we’ve since done to five community hospitals (Holy Cross Health, Broward Health, Cleveland Clinic, Westside Regional Medical Center, and Florida Medical Center) and thousands of our own employees who were at risk of contracting and/or potentially transmitting the virus. Dr. Ari Sareli, our chief of critical care medicine, was among the first in South Florida to be vaccinated, with a simple shot that is repeated approximately 21 days later.
 
This was no doubt the first time Monica Puga, a nurse and Memorial’s vice president of population health, heard cheers after putting a needle in a patient’s arm, but it was a moment worthy of celebration.
 
According to Memorial’s Chief Nurse Executive Maggie Hansen, “It’s a ray of hope for our frontline caregivers that have been battling this COVID-19 pandemic, which has been tremendously taxing for them, both professionally and personally. Now we have the opportunity to offer them what they need to stay well so they can carry us through.”
 
A New Day
We’re very enthusiastic about the potential of the vaccine, which has shown to be effective and have limited side effects in clinical trials, and are encouraging our healthcare workforce and medical staff to be inoculated. While the Pfizer product we’ve received and the Moderna vaccine other hospitals have been allocated aren’t yet available on a widespread basis to the general public as we enter 2021, it is, in the words of Dr. Thomas Macaluso, Memorial’s interim chief medical officer, “the key to ending the pandemic.”
 
I’m certainly aware there is some resistance to taking the vaccine, with misconceptions that abound given how quickly it was approved and the lack of long-range data on its impact. Additionally, we live in a day and age where misinformation can easily spread, especially through social media and personal networks.
 
What I can report is that our clinicians and infectious disease experts are comfortable with the results of the clinical trials and the sample size (more than 43,000 people of varying age, gender, race, ethnicity, body mass index or presence of other underlying co-morbidities), as well as the 95% efficacy reported by Pfizer in preventing COVID-19 in those without prior infection seven days or more after the second dose. This data was consistent across all subgroups, with partial protection for those vaccinated as early as 12 days after the first dose. Study data was submitted to worldwide regulatory bodies that include both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.
 
Maintain Vigilance
While our inoculation effort began with the 19,500 vaccine doses initially received for use by Memorial and the other Broward County hospitals previously mentioned (Jackson Health is the host and distributor for Miami-Dade county), it is not the only weapon in our arsenal. Even after inoculation, and while the long-term efficacy of all the vaccines that reach the market are still being studied, it is critical to preserve the level of caution many of us have shown since last March. That means continuing to wear masks, maintaining physical distance, not gathering in large groups, and washing hands (or using a hand sanitizer) frequently. These are proven to help stop the community spread of the virus and are an important part of the collaborative effort to get control of the pandemic.
 
With your assistance, and thanks to the innovation shown by the scientific community and the tireless efforts of medical professionals around the world, we can beat this virus and embrace the promise the new year holds.

Aurelio M. Fernandez, III, is the president and CEO of the Hollywood-based Memorial Healthcare System.

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