COVID-19 vaccination begins

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Waterbury Hospital clinical pharmacist Fabio Caetano shows the COVID-19 vaccine as staff began to administer vaccines Dec. 15 at the hospital. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

The wait for COVID-19 vaccines is over, though it will be a while longer before vaccines are available for the general public.

The state this week received its first shipment of nearly 32,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech. Frontline health care workers at hospitals across the state were the first to receive the vaccine.

Locally, Waterbury Hospital received 975 doses in its first shipment and Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury received 470 doses, the Republican-American reported.

Griffin Hospital in Derby received 975 doses Dec. 15, said Christian Meagher, communication specialist for the hospital.

“We are excited that our health care partners have begun receiving and administering the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” Naugatuck Valley Health District Director of Health Jessica Kristy said.

The Pfizer vaccine, which has shown to be 95% effective, requires 21 days between the first and second dose. The vaccine uses a genetic molecule called RNA to cause cells to make a viral protein. When the immune system encounters that protein, it makes antibodies and other immune cells that swiftly attack it.

The Food and Drug Administration recently confirmed that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was 94.1% effective, setting the stage for it to be shipped as early next week.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both use the same messenger RNA technology.

Once it receives Emergency Use Authorization, Moderna planned to begin shipping 6 million doses across the country. It was unclear how many will be distributed in Connecticut.

Moderna requires a 28-day wait between the first and second vaccine. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, the Moderna vaccine remains stable at a regular freezer temperature — minus 20 degrees Celsius — for up to six months. Those vaccinated must receive the same booster shot as they do their initial shot.

UNDER THE STATE’S DISTRIBUTION PLAN, the vaccine is being given to frontline heath care workers first, followed by people in nursing homes, people over 65 or with risk factors, and then the general public. Healthy people under age 65 will likely have to wait until June to get immunized.

Vaccine shipments were expected to be transported to CVS and Walgreens distribution centers by Dec. 21 and then sent to nursing homes throughout Connecticut.

Glendale Center and Beacon Brook Health Center, both in Naugatuck, are partnering with CVS to administer vaccines to their staff and residents.

“We are confident that the vaccine development and clinical trial process has been rigorous, and that the FDA will approve only the candidates that merit it,” Glendale Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Feifer said.

Tim Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems, which owns Beacon Brook, said the nursing home is scheduled to receive vaccines from CVS on Dec. 28.

Nursing home officials are urging as many employees and residents as possible to get the vaccine, but they aren’t going to require it.

The Glendale Center has 120 beds and more than 125 employees, according to Glendale Center spokesperson Lori Mayer. Beacon Brook has 126 beds and 177 employees, Brown said.

Feifer said officials are going to discuss the importance of receiving the vaccine and how it will work with residents and their families.

Brown said staff will administer the vaccinations bedside to residents. A room in the nursing home will be designated as a clinic for employees to receive the vaccine, he said. Residents with cognitive issues or those who don’t make their own health decisions will need a family member to fill out a consent form, he said.

Regardless of the vaccine, Brown said, staff will continue to wear masks and follow the COVID protocols in place until they are revised otherwise.

“We’re very excited that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Brown said.

Genesis HealthCare, which owns the Glendale Center, is participating in a newly developed safety monitoring program with Brown University School of Public Health researchers to observe for any potential side effects, according to Feifer.

“This work is part of a CDC effort to carefully monitor vaccine safety, particularly focused on frail elderly residents who were not included in vaccine trials,” Feifer said.

Griffin Hospital Director of Pharmacy Services Lisa Jaser opens the hospital’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers at the hospital in Derby on Dec. 15. -CONTRIBUTED

LOCAL HEALTH DISTRICTS WILL work with municipalities to administer vaccines to other critical workers, such as firefighters, police officers and teachers, as part of Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination plan.

Kristy expects the Naugatuck Valley Health District, which covers Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Derby, Seymour, Ansonia and Shelton, will receive its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine sometime in January after it’s approved.

“Eventually, later in 2021, we will likely play a role in vaccinating the public too,” Kristy said.

Chesprocott Health District Director of Health Maura Esposito said the district, which serves Prospect, Cheshire and Wolcott, will order the Moderna vaccine after it’s approved.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored in an ultra-low vaccine freezer, which the health district doesn’t have, Esposito said.

“We are just waiting for the email link to be sent to say order your vaccines,” Esposito said. “Once we do that, then we start setting our schedule based on the amount of vaccine we receive.”

Esposito said she hopes to get eight to ten Chesprocott nurses vaccinated in other clinics but will not mandate nurses get inoculated, including those who administer the vaccines.

Health officials have been working with local emergency management directors on plans to vaccinate frontline workers. NVHD and Chesprocott will use the Vaccine Administration Management System from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to order and track vaccines, conduct registration and track who are vaccinated.

“This is all a big learning curve for all of us,” Esposito said.

LOCAL MUNICIPAL LEADERS SAY they won’t order employees to get the vaccine when the time comes.

Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, who is recovering from a case of COVID in November, said he plans to take the vaccine when it becomes available

“I’m going to get it,” Chatfield said.

As the state vaccination process unfolds, local officials said they were waiting for more information.

Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said frontline workers in the borough will be the first to get the shot.

“We have a dissemination plan in place. However our plan can’t be finalized until we get more information from the state,” Hess said. “The state is still working on their distribution plan.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said last week he hasn’t been contacted by anyone from the state. He said the town doesn’t have the capacity, facilities or personnel to administer vaccines.

“I can’t have a plan if I don’t have a vaccine,” Smith said.

Elio Gugliotti and the Republican-American contributed to this report.