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Health Team

First NC health workers get coronavirus vaccinations

Posted December 13, 2020 6:38 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2020 8:10 p.m. EST

— Some health care workers across North Carolina received their first dose of coronavirus vaccine Monday after the initial shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine arrived at nearly a dozen hospitals across the state.

Charlotte-based Atrium Health was the first to administer the vaccine in the state, with Dr. Katie Passaretti, the system's medical director of infection prevention, getting the first shot. More than a dozen of her co-workers were expected to be vaccinated by the end of the day.

Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem was actually the first hospital in North Carolina to receive the vaccine from UPS early Monday, and workers started getting vaccinated there Monday afternoon.

A shipment of 2,925 vaccine doses arrived at Duke University Hospital at about 9:15 a.m. and was put in the ultra-cold freezer at the hospital within an hour, spokeswoman Sarah Avery said. A small number of workers there were vaccinated there Monday, with another 60 planned for Tuesday, she said.

Faye Williams, 67, a retired nurse who helps screen people coming into the hospital, was the first to be vaccinated at Duke.

"I'm excited, and I look forward to seeing the impact," Williams said, noting she had no reservations about getting the shot. "I's a beginning [of the end to the pandemic] that I didn't think would come this soon."

"It's been an amazing day. It's something we've been anxiously awaiting for weeks now," said Dr. Bill Fulkerson, executive vice president of Duke University Health System. "I hope this is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still going to take some time."

"I think we will all remember where we were and what we were doing when this happened," said Dr. Julius Wilder, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Duke who also was vaccinated.

Wilder said that, like Williams, he's honored to also be among the first to get the vaccine and hopes that he inspires others to do the same as it becomes available.

"If we want to get back to our normal lives, the safest, quickest and most efficient way to do that is going to be to get our vaccinations," he said. "It is history, and it's exciting. It's always a little scary getting something new, but as a physician, as a scientist, I'm comfortable knowing that we have good data."

Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert at Duke, said hundreds of workers could be vaccinated there each day depending on staffing. Duke is prioritizing clinical and support staff in the emergency departments, COVID care units, respiratory care centers and urgent care centers, officials said.

"It’s a limited supply for now, but this is a remarkable achievement for science and health," Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted Monday. "We all need to keep wearing a mask and acting responsibly while we get as many people vaccinated as fast as we can."

A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, which was authorized Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A total of 85,800 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to go to 53 hospitals in the state this week.

In addition to Duke Hospital, UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, WakeMed and UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh and Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville are set to receive 2,925 doses – the maximum allotment in the first week.

Mark Lyons, vice president of UNC Health Pharmacy, said UNC has been preparing for six months for the vaccine. The first in line to get shots are frontline medical workers who work most closely with coronavirus patients.

"There is a lot of activity going on behind the scenes. We working on ensuring that we have a plan to vaccinate those workers that are at the highest risk," Lyons said.

According to Lyons, the majority of North Carolina's hospitals will receive their first vaccines by Wednesday.

The Pfizer vaccine is extremely fragile, health officials said, and must be stored in ultra-cold conditions.

"We built out the capacity all across UNC Health and we have redundant methods," Lyons said. But, if their storage methods fail, UNC is keeping bulk containers of dry ice available across the state to keep the vaccines cold.

"It's a big responsibility, but one we take pride in," Lyons said.

An effort to vaccinate residents and employees in nursing homes is being led by the federal government through CVS and Walgreens and will begin after Moderna's vaccine is approved. After hospitals and nursing homes, vaccines will be offered in clinics and pharmacies through vaccine events.

State and local leaders will coordinate distributing the coronavirus vaccine based on who needs the vaccine most. Along with healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities will be among the first to receive Pfizer's vaccine.

The coronavirus vaccine will be free to everyone – insurances companies and the federal government will cover the cost.

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