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UPMC, Geisinger confident of vaccines

Executives with the region’s two primary health-care systems are expressing confidence and excitement with the emergency vaccine and upcoming vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Officials with UPMC and Geisinger called Pfizer’s vaccine “very promising” after it received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency approval on Friday.

What’s more, they expressed excitement about Moderna’s vaccine, which could receive important preliminary approvals later this week,

“I am confident,” said Stanley Martin, Geisinger’s director of Infectious Diseases. “All of the vaccines are different and all have different ways in which they work … it is not clear just yet what might be best. It is interesting but very promising for us.”

“There is a lot of excitement about being able to vaccinate those in the workforce so we can continue to meet the needs of the communities we serve,” added Dr. David Lopatofsky of UPMC in the Susquehanna Region.

Pfizer’s two-step vaccine will be allocated through the state of Pennsylvania as it prepares to receive thousands, if not millions of doses in coming days.

The first step is a shot, with another coming three weeks later, they explained.

Lopatofsky said UPMC hospitals in Williamsport, Muncy Valley and Lock Haven should receive 2,000 doses between the campuses, and Wellsboro and Coudersport campuses will receive approximately 1,000 doses.

Martin did not disclose exact numbers of doses Geisinger expects, but said, “Geisinger, given its size, is going to need to have a relatively decent allotment.”

The initial doses of vaccines to UPMC and Geisinger are designated for frontline COVID-19 workers, those in nursing or long-term care facilities.

“As more vaccines become available, that circle of people who receive the vaccination increases to include hopefully patients sooner rather than later,” Martin said.

“That’s what we as health care providers want to do. Having a successful and effective vaccine is truly going to be the light at the end of the tunnel as a society. It is still going to be a while, the problems won’t immediately go away.”

Critical to the effort are the two systems’ ability to store and distribute the vaccines, and both Martin and Lopatofsky said UPMC and Geisinger are prepared.

“The vaccines are a little challenging to store and require ultra-low cold temperatures … it requires a certain attention to detail that not every clinic will have,” Martin said. “We already had some means in place and just have expanded from that.”

Geisinger, Martin said, plans to store the vaccinations at a couple of the facilities but distribute to all of the remaining hospitals.

UPMC and Geisinger, however, are not requiring their frontline staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine; it is optional.

Those who do receive both doses will be monitored for side-effects.

“The common side effects are a sore arm, additionally some patients might have fever and fatigue,” Dr. Lopatofsky added.

Employees are screened as they walk through the door, and those who don’t pass the regular COVID-19 screening won’t get the vaccine, he added.

Martin also said that testing is not required to get the vaccination, however, the FDA could change the protocol for that.

“Eventually (the vaccine) should become eligible for everybody,” he said.

“Hopefully we will get to that point that a patient can get one when coming to the doctor for a regular check up.”

“Anytime something new comes, I can understand why people might get nervous,” Martin continued.

“The science behind the vaccination has not been compromised in any way. These standards that the FDA are using are the same standards they would use anytime for a vaccine.

“Remember the alternative … to continue for us to have overwhelming numbers of COVID,” he warned.

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