The first doses of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Connecticut Monday morning, and the process of vaccinating frontline health care workers began at Hartford Hospital.
By Ronni Newton
Hartford HealthCare received its first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning, and celebrated the historic moment as a group of 15 front-line workers became the first people in the state to be vaccinated.
“To imagine nine months, and a day that we could be here with a vaccine, with the level of effectiveness of this vaccine … is almost impossible to imagine,” Jeffrey A. Flaks, president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare.
Monday’s event actually occurred ahead of schedule, with the truck carrying the vaccine arriving at roughly 9 a.m., an hour earlier than expected. As soon as the vaccine doses thawed, the process of vaccination also began ahead of schedule.
The 15 members from throughout the Hartford HealthCare system who would be first to receive the vaccine – environmental services and food services employees, physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists – are “pioneers,” Flaks said. “All people who have been caring for our community, our patients in this time.”
Those frontline workers are once again showing their belief in the science, serving as role models, as the first in the state and among the first in the country to get the vaccine.
“This is the dawn of a new day. This is a moment for incredible hope,” Flaks said.
Gov. Ned Lamont attended the celebration Monday morning, and expressed his appreciation to the front-line health care workers.
“This is a really, really important day,” Lamont said.
The revolutionary vaccine is one of the most effective in the history of the world, “deemed to be safe and effective,” Lamont said. “For the first time in a long time … I think we see the end zone.”
Lamont, who looked on as Colleen Teevan, systems manager for pharmacy clinical integration, administered the vaccine to Keith Grant, APRN, senior system manager of infectious prevention for Hartford HealthCare and a member of the state’s COVID-19 Taskforce, said he hopes to personally receive the vaccine very soon.
Before receiving his dose, Grant said state residents have been asked to do a lot – to wear masks, observe physical distancing, wash their hands carefully, getting tested. “As of this morning we are going to be able to say get your vaccine as well. That’s a big deal,” Grant said.
“The cure in the form of the vaccine is 95% effective,” said Grant.
Flaks said testing will continue and expand across the Hartford HealthCare system, but the organization will be pivoting to create a statewide system for vaccinating.
Hartford HealthCare’s director of pharmacy, Dr. Eric Arlia, said their staff has tremendous confidence in the vaccine. “Our job now is to get this vaccine out to everyone.”
Dr. Melisha Cumberland, director of medicine for Windham Hospital, said, “There is only one word that can describe what I feel inside, and it’s ‘excitement.'”
“We are now in a place where we can say this is a day of hope, this is a day of change,” Cumberland said, not just for the state but for the nation.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” said Dr. Patrick Troy, a pulmonologist at Hartford Hospital who has been caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU since the pandemic began. “Mostly based on just the incredible excitement of just this moment coming to fruition. It’s beyond my wildest dreams that where we’ve been and where we are in nine short months … it’s literally nothing short of putting a human being on the moon. It’s that momentous in terms of the nature of what we’ve accomplished.”
Health care professionals have gotten so much better at treating COVID patients, a testament to teamwork, said Troy. And he has been awed by the compassion of the public.
Now, when people ask what they can do to help, he won’t just say wear a mask and continue distancing – although that will still be necessary for some time and will be more important than ever. “Today, I have one more ask: That ask is when it’s your turn to get this vaccine, choose to take that opportunity,” said Troy, who was eager to be among those to be vaccinated Monday morning.
“This is about doing the right thing for the safety and health of your friends, of your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and your classmates.” That will be the way to quickly change the narrative, he said.
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