City optimistic as vaccinations begin

by Kate Dolan
Posted 12/18/20

As the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the city this week, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley discussed vaccine trial findings and the city’s distribution plan.

The Pfizer vaccine, …

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City optimistic as vaccinations begin

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As the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the city this week, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley discussed vaccine trial findings and the city’s distribution plan.

The Pfizer vaccine, which was found to be 95% effective, was distributed for the first time in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Farley called this a “turning point” in the pandemic and said the discovery of the vaccine was a “stunning achievement” at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference.

The Pfizer vaccine trial involved 43,000 participants in the United States and five other countries. Half received a placebo while the other half received the vaccine. Participants were tracked for two months and of the 19,000 who were  took the placebo, 162 contracted the virus. Of the 19,000  who received the vaccine, eight contracted COVID-19.

The vaccine was found to be effective across age groups and racial and ethnic groups. Side effects included aches and chills after the second dose with 30% reporting those symptoms and 15% of participants reported a fever after the second dose.

“That's a sign that the immune system is working, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” Farley said. “Overall with this study, these are absolutely excellent results.”

Farley highlighted a second vaccine from Moderna, which was also found to be 95% effective, saying that it’s likely the city will have two vaccines to offer as early as next week.

Eligibility to receive the vaccine is based on three factors. The first depends on the likelihood of contracting the infection, due to the exposure a person has to the virus and the nature of their work. The second is based on how severe the infection may be if contracted.

“For example, people who are much older are much more likely to have a serious infection than people who are younger,” said Farley.

The third factor involves people who would pose a great risk by spreading the virus.

The breakdown looks like this: Healthcare workers who are exposed to COVID-19, such as doctors, clerical staff at hospital emergency room departments and nursing home residents and staff will be first priority. “Critical infrastructure workers” who are routinely exposed to the virus because of the in-person work they do will then be eligible for vaccination.

People who live in group homes and behavioral health facilities follow. People over the age of 65 come next, followed by people with underlying medical conditions. After this, “everyone else” can begin to receive the vaccination. More information about eligibility can be found on the city’s COVID-19 vaccine site here.

Initially, work sites like hospitals and nursing homes will be responsible for distributing the vaccine to staff and residents. There will be an expansion to other sites as more groups are eligible for the vaccine.

Farley said it is uncertain how long it will take to roll out vaccines, predicting that it will take months.

“A lot of that is unknown because we don’t know how quickly the manufacturers can produce this vaccine,” he said.

The vaccine arrives in the city as daily case counts remain high and Safer at Home restrictions remain in place.

On Friday morning, 659 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were identified bringing the total number to 84,166 since the beginning of the pandemic. The total number of fatalities reached 2,218 after 15 new deaths were reported on Friday. Currently, 929 people are in Philadelphia hospitals with the infection and 138 of those patients are on ventilators.

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