Since March, countless North Carolinians have died, been hospitalized and impacted financially due to the Covid-19 virus. Now, nine months later, a Food and Drug Administration approved Covid-19 vaccine is available in North Carolina for public use.
Biopharmaceutical company Pfizer delivered the vaccine to Atrium Health hospitals on Monday. Atrium is the first health system in North Carolina to administer the vaccine that Pfizer reports is 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 among people who had no evidence of prior infection.
“Atrium Health is proud to be have been among the first in the nation to receive and distribute the initial vaccine allotments, which is critically necessary to slow the spread and lessen the detrimental effects of the virus,” a spokesperson for the health system said in a press release.
On Monday morning, Atrium’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Katie Passaretti became the first person in the state to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
“I feel perfectly fine,” Passaretti said in a tweet posted to Atrium’s Twitter account. “I’ve had no issues with the vaccine.”
North Carolina recorded 441,365 confirmed cases of the virus as of 11:30 a.m. on Monday, according to the state’s department of health and human services. Mecklenburg County health officials reported 50,845 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases as of Sunday.
Atrium’s initial supply of the Pfizer vaccine will be limited. Based on national and state guidance, officials say the first batch of the vaccine will be available to staff in “high priority, patient facing areas,” including those in the emergency department and medical intensive care unit, and health care providers at a higher risk for exposure.
“Although Atrium Health has started a new and very hopeful phase of combatting this virus by administering a vaccine for Covid-19, it remains critical for everyone to continue practicing Covid-safe behaviors such as wearing a mask, social-distancing and handwashing, before and after having been vaccinated,” the release said.
Atrium’s Chief Medical Officer Gary Little said at a virtual press briefing Monday afternoon that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is like reaching the Super Bowl because doctors have been preparing for its arrival since the onset of the pandemic.
“This is the optimism I think our country and community needs right now,” he said.
Although the health system didn’t receive its full allotment of vaccine doses Monday, Little said Atrium is prepared to store up to 300,000 doses. Since people will need two doses of the vaccine for it to be completely effective, the 300,000 doses would be enough to vaccinate 150,000 people, he explained.
Little said he doesn’t know when the next shipment of the vaccine doses will be coming, but he anticipates that it will be later this week. When more doses do come, he said that Atrium Health isn’t requiring its internal team to get vaccinated because it’s so new and they don’t know all the long-term effects. They are still strongly recommending that all team members take it.
Including Passaretti, five staff members received their first dose of the vaccine as of Monday afternoon, Little said during the virtual press briefing. More staff members are scheduled to receive vaccinations later in the evening.
Atrium Health also opened a voluntary vaccine research registry, which allows people to learn more about vaccine research and development. People who take part in the registry may be invited to participate in Covid-19 vaccine trials in the future and will be provided with convenient access to trials if they are interested.
Additional vaccines coming this week
Novant Health anticipates receiving its first vaccine allocation on Thursday, but this date is tentative as things remain fluid, Megan Rivers, the health system’s director of public relations, told QCity Metro.
Novant Health is continuing to conduct practice runs of procurement and distribution as well as team member trainings in the meanwhile.
“We’re prepared to immediately begin administering the vaccine, starting with those in Phase 1 of the prioritization framework,” Rivers said.
The state determines the amount of vaccine doses each health system is allocated. Novant is set to receive around 7,000 doses in the first allocation, Rivers said.
Also, since Pfizer said its vaccine has to remain in specialty freezers, Novant officials have ultralow freezers arriving at their Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte. With the ultralow freezers, Rivers said Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center will have the capacity to store around 500,000 doses and more than one million doses at frozen temperature across the health system’s footprint.
Charlotte resident Davida Jackson said the Covid-19 vaccine is a remarkable achievement for science and health. Although having a vaccine for health care workers may put a lot of peoples’ minds at ease, she said African Americans shouldn’t automatically be included in that grouping based on racial disparities and bias.
“Bad medicine is real for us,” Jackson told QCity Metro. “More outreach needs to be done to communicate to our community and show empathy about why so many of us are hesitant to get the shot.”
QCity Metro wants to know how its readers feel about getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Are you hesitant? Or OK with taking it when it becomes available? Let us know in the comments below.