DALLAS — The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered at West Valley Hospital in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon — with direct-care medical providers being the first in line.
Dr. Mia Bishop, the hospital’s pharmacy manager, said the vaccine arrived at 11 a.m., and an initial group of eight hospital staff members got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine a little after 2 p.m.
Dr. Gretel Honis, who works in the emergency department, said she begged to among the first to get the shot.
"I just want this virus to go away and I want to do my part," she said.
Vaccines arrived last week for Salem Hospital, owned by Salem Health, West Valley’s parent corporation. The Salem vaccines were produced by Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech. The vaccines scheduled to arrive in Dallas this week were produced by Moderna.
The differences between the Moderna and the Pfizer/BioNTech are subtle. Both vaccines require two shots — a priming dose followed by a booster shot. The interval between Moderna doses is 28 days as opposed to 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine.
According to medical journals, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine proved 95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, beginning seven days after the second dose was administered. The Moderna vaccine proved only 0.9% less effective at 94%.
Bishop said the arrival of the Moderna vaccine was delayed because, as of last week, federal Food and Drug Administration officials still needed to clear the drug for emergency use. FDA officials authorized the drug Friday, allowing the shipment of millions more doses across the country.
However, public health experts and federal officials estimate it will be at least six months, if not longer, before most Americans can be vaccinated. Beyond front-line medical providers, first priority goes to the elderly and other people at high risk of life-threatening complications.
As of the end of last week, Polk County tallied a total of 2,193 COVID-19 cases, and 24 county residents have died from the disease. Numbers continue to skyrocket daily across the country. More than 1.51 million new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States last week -- bringing the national death toll to more than 317,000.
The Washington Post reports at least one American dies from COVID-19 every 33 seconds.
Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, projected Friday that at least 562,000 Americans will be dead from COVID-19 by April 1 when vaccines may be widespread.
Dr. John Hadley, the president of the medical staff at West Valley Hospital, said Salem Hospital received a shipment of 975 vaccines Thursday and immediately began vaccinating staff and providers in high-risk areas.
As of Friday, said Hadley, Salem Hospital has hospitalized 726 COVID-19 patients over the course of the pandemic.
“The Oregon Health Authority and Centers for Disease Control are directing vaccine distribution, and this first phase is focused on health-care workers,” he said. “Protecting health-care workers ensures that staff and providers are ready and able to care for the community when needed.”
Hadley said the scope and timing of future vaccine phases will be determined by the same regulatory agencies.
“The broad availability of the vaccine is difficult to predict,” he said. “The vaccine represents a step toward healing and normalcy after a challenging and difficult year.”
Not being a front-line medical provider, Bishop said she will not be among the people waiting in 2021’s long line for vaccines. Nonetheless, she said, vaccinating physicians and nurses first is in everyone’s best interest.
“Those staff will obviously get the vaccination,” she said. “With the numbers going up, our concern at the hospital is that we have appropriate staffing.”
Just who will be next in line is uncertain.
“It’s changing, and we don’t have anything set,” Bishop said.
It may be medical personnel who draw blood and perform similar supportive medical services.
“I don’t want to go into that too much,” she said. “We don’t know when we’re getting a set number of vaccines. Highest-risk groups will be in the first tier, and vaccines will be appropriately distributed according to risk factors.
Bishop said she is confident everyone involved in distributing and administering vaccines is moving as fast as humanly possible in response to the crisis.
“Vaccine manufacturers are turning them around and getting them available as soon as possible,” she said. “People will get their turn. We just don’t know the timeline yet.”
In fact, she added, it’s amazing how quickly the vaccines have been produced, approved and rolled out across the country and the world. “The timeline has been very quick because it’s a pandemic, and there’s immediate need,” Bishop said.
That doesn’t mean the studies for safety and efficacy have been rushed, she said. In anything, they’ve been three times more thorough.
“They were large studies involving many people,” Bishop said.
KFF (formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation) tracks statistics on health policy issues and reports that 27% of Americans are what is called “vaccine hesitant,” meaning they worry about COVID-19 vaccines and possible side effects.
According to KFF, vaccine hesitancy is highest among Republicans (42%), people ages 30 to 49 (36%) and rural residents (35%).
The people most vociferously opposed to vaccines claim the chemicals are toxic and unnatural and that the vaccines are insufficiently tested. They further claim scientists develop vaccines for sinister and hidden agendas such as tyrannical efforts to control the population.
If these claims sound familiar, it’s because they were also used to discredit smallpox immunizations 120 years ago.
Bishop said it should tell people concerned about vaccines something that the very physicians accused of sinister motives are getting shots first.
“They’re the ones who are saying, ‘I want to be the first in line,’” she said.
It’s important, she added, that people get their information from credible and thoroughly vetted sources rather than what friends are repeating on social media.
“All sorts of information gets thrown out there,” she said.