Now there is really something to celebrate this holiday season when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC - after the FDA's decision to grant emergency authorization for the coronavirus vaccine – has formally signed off on a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Pfizer's vaccine to be used in people 16 and older. The CDC recommendation comes after the FDA's decision to grant emergency authorization for the vaccine.
When will people start getting vaccinated?
Most of the general public will have to wait until April–June to be vaccinated as healthcare workers and those at risk are to receive the shot first (see more timing details on mass.gov).
The first COVID vaccine to receive Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA is currently being received by health systems and hospitals around the country, and a nurse at a Queens hospital was the first person in the United States to be vaccinated.
When will Baystate Health begin vaccinations?
In the initial shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 15, Baystate Health received a very limited number of vaccine doses – 1,950 – which were immediately placed in ultra-cold storage until vaccinations begin on Wednesday.
See the unboxing of our first vaccine shipment:
The vaccine will be distributed to select categories of our clinically-facing team members based on their relative risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. System employees first offered the vaccine – will be those at highest relative risk based on:
- The community prevalence
- Local transmission rates
- Type of work unit
- Patient volumes in distinct locations.
Baystate Health expects to receive more doses of the Pfizer vaccine and potentially others (the Moderna vaccine is expected to receive Emergency Authorization Use later this week) over the next several weeks and plans to expand vaccination to addition groups of healthcare workers at that time.
According to Massachusetts state guidelines and for much of the country, the coronavirus vaccine will not be available to the general public until April.
Will the vaccine return life to 'normal'?
“The COVID-19 vaccines hopefully can bring some normalcy back to our daily lives in the later part of next year, depending on how many will get vaccinated. We expect that at least in the short term, people will still need to continue to wear masks and follow social distancing. While the vaccine is shown to be very effective in preventing symptomatic infection, it is not 100% and is still unclear how much it can prevent asymptomatic infection that allows disease transmission,” says Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health.
“With the current surge, the availability of vaccine will definitely help those vulnerable populations at risk of severe infection and death from COVID-19. There are still deaths occurring attributed to COVID-19 in Massachusetts, up to 60 in one day recently, although the cumulative deaths are not as high as during the first surge,” he added.
Still, public support is split on the vaccine: 60% of people said they were likely to get the shot, a recent Pew poll found, while more than 20 percent were strongly opposed.
How can we achieve 'herd immunity'?
According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.
It is still unknown exactly how many people need to be vaccinated against or infected with COVID-19 to achieve “herd immunity,” notes Dr. Paez.
“Experts estimate it will be in the range of 70-80%. We know that within 90 days following COVID-19 that reinfection is unlikely, however, reinfection has been reported after that. We do not know at this time for how long the vaccine will offer protection from COVID-19. Based on available data, the Pfizer vaccine is safe and very effective. Most side effects like injection site reaction, fatigue and headache resolve in 1-2 days. I believe one needs to look at the vaccine in the context of potential complications from COVID-19 illness compared to the side effects of the vaccine, then will realize how this vaccine can prevent serious illness for you and those around you,” he says.
How will the COVID-19 vaccine be distributed?
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health developed a timeline for distributing the vaccine in phases based on the priorities of "protecting our most vulnerable, maintaining health care system capacity, and addressing inequities in health care access and COVID-19 burden."
As already noted above, those who will receive the vaccine first as part of “Phase One” are frontline healthcare workers and long-term care staff and residents. They will be followed by police, firefighters, and emergency medical workers, home-based health workers, and other “non-COVID facing” health workers, according to the state’s distribution plan. As for “Phase Two” priority groups, it will include residents with two or more chronic illnesses, essential workers such as teachers, transit employees and food, sanitation, public works, and public health workers, according to the state’s priority list. After that will come adults who are 65 and over and individuals with one co-morbidity making them at higher risk for COVID-19. The vaccine will be available to the general public beginning in April as part of “Phase Three.”
See the latest COVID-19 vaccine information from Baystate Health experts.