The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Evangelical Community Hospital as soon as Tuesday with front-line medical workers beginning the two-step vaccination process Wednesday, hospital President and CEO Kendra Aucker said.

Health care providers, clinical staff and support personnel caring for patients at the hospital and at clinics will be vaccinated, Aucker said. About half of the hospital’s 1,900-person workforce will be vaccinated, added Deanna Hollenbach, the hospital’s public relations and communications manager.

“As a two-step vaccination process, the first recipients of the vaccine will receive a second dose from the next shipment received. After hospital-related staff have been vaccinated, Evangelical will work with the state to widen the vaccination effort with future shipments,” Aucker said.

Geisinger anticipates a similar timeline as 2,000 to 3,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be distributed among front-line staff systemwide, according to hospital media specialist Joseph Stender. Vaccinations will begin within 24 hours of receipt of the vaccine and initially carry on for two weeks, he said.

“In alignment with Pennsylvania Department of Health and federal guidelines, we will be providing vaccines to front-line staff whose daily work involves significant interactions with COVID-19 patients and other staff in critical departments during the initial phase,” Stender said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization to the vaccine, the first such approval in the country. Millions of doses have been distributed nationwide with vaccinations having begun Monday. Distribution is prioritized per federal and state guidelines for direct care medical personnel and shortly thereafter for nursing facility residents and those at most risk to the novel coronavirus. Widespread distribution isn't anticipated until the spring at the earliest.

A second vaccine from Moderna and the National Institutes of Health will be considered for emergency authorization later this week. Both vaccines had an efficacy rate of about 95 percent in clinical trials and both are administered in two shots separated by several weeks in between. Multiple other vaccines, some without rigid storage requirements and two-dose administration, are also in the latter stages of clinical trials. 

Geisinger has established an online resource hub to help address questions about the vaccine. Available at Geisinger.org/COVIDvax, information includes details about the vaccine safety information, who Geisinger should vaccinate according to state guidance and answers to frequently asked questions.

Patricia Stinchfield of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, a representative of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, said during a media event Monday that people receiving the vaccination should expect soreness at the injection site, mild illness and headache.

“What is happening is your immune system is responding. It’s a small one- to two-day sense of illness, it usually lasts about a day and it’s far, far better than having COVID disease,” Stinchfield said.

There have been at least two instances in the United Kingdom of people outside clinical trials who have a history of severe allergies and experienced severe adverse reactions to the vaccine. Clinical guidance posted online Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends caution and consultation for persons with severe allergies but doesn’t rule out the vaccine unless there’s a history of adverse reaction to specific components within the vaccine.

Among the unknowns about the vaccine is how long it will last.

“You’ll have protection for years, not decades,” Dr. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said during a media event Monday.

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