LEONARDTOWN, MARYLAND (December 18, 2020) – Roughly 10 months after the COVID-19 pandemic first touched St. Mary’s County, healthcare workers at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital have begun receiving the initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—a crucial step in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.
The State of Maryland is coordinating vaccine distribution to groups identified in Phase I of its vaccination plan: critical healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders. At MedStar St. Mary’s, the first 25 doses of a larger allotment arrived on Dec. 17 in a specialized container to accommodate the frozen temperatures required for safe handling.
“Receiving these vaccines is a big moment for the team. It was very exciting to see the shipment arrive,” said Stephen Michaels, MD, FACHE, chief operating officer and chief medical officer at MedStar St. Mary’s. “Though we still have a long road ahead of us, this is an important step in our journey out of the pandemic. We’re grateful to have received these doses for our hardworking healthcare workers—folks who show up each day to care for the community, especially at such a vulnerable time.”
After the arrival of Pfizer’s first doses on Thursday evening, pre-identified and scheduled healthcare workers at MedStar St. Mary’s awaited their turn Friday to receive the first of two Pfizer shots, which must be administered 21 days apart. MedStar Health associates are encouraged, but not required, to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as one becomes available.
Gary Pearson, RN was the first at MedStar St. Mary’s to receive the vaccine—prompting cheers and applause from colleagues. A U.S. Navy veteran and new-to-practice nurse, Gary began his career in June working overnight in the Emergency Department (ED). Gary and his wife, Aimee, a fellow nurse in the hospital’s operating room, both agreed they would receive the vaccine as soon as it was offered to them. “It was important for me to sign up and get vaccinated so I can go back and share my experience with everyone else,” Gary said.
Anna Kavetsky, MSN, CCRN, has been taking care of COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Center and 3 Central units at MedStar St. Mary’s since the earliest days of the pandemic. “I have five kids at home. It was important to me to get the vaccine as soon as I could not just to protect myself, but to protect everyone in my household,” she shared. “Plus, I have an elderly grandmother—I haven’t been able to see her for more than a year. Talking on FaceTime is not the same as giving her a hug.”
Ruby Stewart, CNA, was third to get the shot on Friday. Her career as a nurse technician began in the ED in January. “I don’t know really how the hospital was ‘before.’ It’s definitely been eye-opening to be working through a pandemic,” said Ruby, a University of Maryland student who plans to become a physician’s assistant. “I really see this as an opportunity—to protect our patients, our community, my family and friends, and myself. I’m 100% willing to do my part.”
Respiratory therapist Suzy Abell, RRT, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, clinical lead of Pulmonary Services, sat down for her vaccine without hesitation. Critically involved in caring for COVID-positive patients since March, Suzy smiled through her N95 at the colleagues cheering her on. She offered her arm with confidence. “Whatever it takes,” she said, “to get everyone else to take it.”
Dr. Mark Manguerra, hospitalist and infectious disease specialist with MedStar Shah Medical Group, has been actively seeing COVID-19-positive patients throughout the crisis. “If there is anything at all I can do to limit my chances of becoming ill, I’m going to take it,” Dr. Manguerra shared. “I think it makes a lot of sense. I trust the science. It’s new technology, but it has been carefully developed. I’m grateful for this opportunity. I couldn’t get in line fast enough.”
Phase I vaccine distribution at MedStar Health is based on prioritization established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Academy of Sciences, the Maryland Department of Health, and D.C. Health. All institutions prioritize vaccination for associates and providers considered high-risk for potential COVID-19 exposure, including those who treat and/or interact with COVID-19 patients. Priority groups for initial vaccination include front-line caregivers in MedStar Health Emergency Departments, MedStar Health Urgent Care, critical care units, designated COVID-19 units, and MedSTAR Transport teams.
MedStar St. Mary’s will continue vaccinating associates and providers in the weeks to come. The Pfizer product is expected to soon be joined by doses of Moderna’s vaccine, pending the issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food & Drug Administration.
“We have many associates and providers eager to be included in the vaccination process,” said Dr. Michaels. “We know brighter days are ahead—we just have to continue working our way through this together until then.”