Just a day after the first semi-trucks (which typically weigh as much as 18,000 pounds apiece) carrying the first coronavirus vaccines left the Pfizer plant in Michigan, the first coronavirus vaccine recipient in New York was given her first dose. And, unsurprisingly, the first vaccine went to a frontline healthcare worker — who had herself lost loved ones to this deadly virus.
For months, the majority of Americans have been doing everything possible to reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting the novel coronavirus. Wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, maintaining appropriate distance, and even using three-sided plastic table products were all steps that have been taken to protect ourselves and the people we care about. But without a vaccine, we haven’t been able to return to our normal lives. And now, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Although only one out of 10 people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection, the nation’s COVID-19 death toll continues to climb. The risk is especially high for older folks, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions and those who are deemed “essential.” Healthcare workers, of course, are especially vulnerable. Not only do they come into contact with a number of potentially infected patients on a daily basis, but many have not had adequate medical protection throughout the pandemic. Considering the risks involved, it’s no wonder that frontline workers are also at the front of the line for vaccine distribution.
The first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine number around 6.4 million in total (representing 3.2 million vaccinations, as two shots are required). They’ll be given to healthcare workers and emergency personnel first, followed by individuals who live and work in long-term care facilities. Other essential workers and those with a high risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19 will be next. At the end of the line will be those with non-essential jobs and with no high-risk factors, as well as children; kids under the age of 16 were not included in the first trials for Moderna or Pfizer and it’s not yet clear when vaccines will be approved for younger individuals, though trials are currently underway.
The first person to receive the vaccine in New York State was Sandra Lindsay, RN, who serves as the director of critical care nursing at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. When Linsday, a Black woman who has lost relatives to the virus, spoke at a hastily arranged media event, she noted: “I’ve been waiting for this day forever.” She was met with applause when the vaccine was given and said of the shot afterward that it “felt no different” from other vaccines she’s received in the past. She hopes that showing her vaccination through the media will instill public trust, particularly for people of color, in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
As Governor Andrew Cuomo watched the event via live stream, he said, “Good things come from Queens… I believe this will be the way to end the war.”
Despite President Trump’s claims that New York State would not receive the vaccine, it’s clear that all 50 states will have vaccines distributed. Cuomo emphasized that up to 85% of the nation’s population will need to be vaccinated in order for it to be effective. However, it will be several months before the general public will receive an adequate supply. For now, experts stress, it’s important to continue widespread diligence.
“So this is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cuomo explained. “But it’s a long tunnel and we need people to continue to be doing the right thing. And the smart thing, all through the holiday season. And hopefully, when we get to about June, they estimate the vaccine can hit critical mass, but the health care workers will get it first because we know that you’re super stressed during this holiday season.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that five different hospitals in the city have already received shipments of the vaccine, while 39 others will receive vaccines over the next couple of days. That said, New York State officials expect only enough doses from Pfizer to innoculate around 170,000 from this first distribution. An additional 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is still awaiting FDA approval for emergency use, to arrive as soon as next week. Coupled together, these first batches of the vaccine are anticipated to innoculate around one-fourth of the 1.8 million New York State residents who have been prioritized to receive the vaccine during the first phase of distribution — so clearly, there’s still a long way to go. The first phase of distribution is predicted to conclude in January, after which experts hope that the second phase will be ready for roll-out.
Standing in stark contrast to this hopeful news, of course, is the growing number of infections throughout the state. Governor Cuomo has already threatened sweeping shut-downs of non-essential businesses after the holidays. So while there’s a distinct feeling of hope in the air, officials warn the public to not become negligent; there’s still a difficult road ahead of us — and we all need to do our part to keep each other safe.