HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Sentara Healthcare has received its first shipment of 11,700 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. The doses will be distributed among Sentara's 11 hospital systems across Virginia.
"We are very, very excited," Sentara VP of Clinical Effectiveness Mary Morin said. "It means that we get to start hopefully working towards that herd immunity, which will take time."
This vaccine requires two doses spaced three weeks apart and Sentara says they expect to receive an additional shipment, with the second dose of the vaccine sometime within the next 10 days.
"It's completely unprecedented to get a drug that quickly, and it truly is remarkable that something has come out this quickly," Sentara Chief Pharmacy Officer Tim Jennings said. "It's an incredible amount of science."
Sentara’s initial supply is limited and vaccines are being shared across the system.
The healthcare system says they are following VDH recommendations and limiting initial vaccine distribution to a priority group that includes emergency department staff, ICUs, COVID patient units, respiratory unit staff and hospital staff who provide services in these areas (e.g., ESD, food service, staff who go into patient rooms), among others. On Tuesday the first doses of the vaccine in Virginia were given to Sentara Healthcare workers and Gov. Northam was in attendance.
Officials hope a high percentage of staff take advantage of the vaccine.
"We have identified our highest risk healthcare worker population," Morin said. "We have the opportunity to vaccinate around 94 percent of that first group."
"If we get a good 80-plus percent of our healthcare employees, then we're contributing very well," Jennings added.
Sentara will stand up vaccine clinics where the vaccine will be administered to its priority groups in the hospital setting with the highest risk of COVID-19 exposure later this week.
"They'll be offered seven days a week at varying times to meet the needs of those that work, not just normal working hours, but on the off shift," Morin said.
The COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary, meaning employees are not required to receive the vaccine. All staff will continue to wear proper PPE, including masks, and follow Sentara’s COVID-19 protocols regardless of vaccination status.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not available to the community at this time and no one is permitted to visit the hospital and request the vaccine.
Sentara officials said vaccine information will be vital looking ahead.
"I think as more information comes forward, and we can inform the public of what the adverse events are, then the better off they'll be in making that decision to get vaccinated," Jennings said.
Sentara officials added they're also expecting to receive doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on December 21.