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At Mercy, vaccine offers hope

EMS and other qualified workers get shots

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Cases of Covid-19 in Rockville Centre continue to rise, but many people are optimistic as vaccinations for the virus continue at Mercy Medical Center. Last week, the hospital began administering the vaccine to Emergency Medical Services workers while also rolling out the second round of inoculations to staff members.

Pamela Raimondi, a registered nurse, gave the first injection in the vaccination clinic on Dec. 16, and has spent her shifts there over the past several weeks. “Everyone that’s been coming is excited to be here and happy to get it,” Raimondi said, “and hoping that it does what it needs to do going forward.”

By the morning of Jan. 7, more than 1,000 people had been vaccinated at Mercy, and the hospital began giving the second round of the vaccine on Jan. 4. Separate clinics were set up for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and Raimondi said that while the effort is time-consuming, the staff has developed a good system for administering the vaccinations. Patients register and fill out paperwork when they arrive. After receiving the shot, they wait 20 minutes before leaving to make sure they are OK.

Dr. Robert Bramante, the hospital’s director of emergency medicine, said that he and his group were ramping up to help staff the clinics so that physician’s assistants from the emergency department will also be administering the vaccines next week. For the first few weeks, only nurses were giving them.

“The biggest thing,” Bramante said, “is getting these doses out, getting people their first shot so they can get in line for their second shot and hopefully find some form of hope for this year.”

Asked about Covid-19 cases at the hospital, he said, “There’s definitely an in-crease.”

Just that morning, he said on Jan. 7, he had heard from the county that the number of ambulance runs had been increasing. “So it’s even more important to get EMS in for vaccination at this point,” Bramante added. “Pandemic calls are up, hospital visits are up for Covid-related symptoms, hospitalizations are creeping up again — luckily not where we were yet, and hopefully we won’t get to where we were in March and April, but it’s definitely getting worse again. The holiday events brought people together, I think, despite instructions on restrictions. We’re seeing the aftermath of that now.”

And, he said, the hospital could see still more cases in the coming weeks related to holiday gatherings. The virus’s incubation period is 14 days, and, Bramante said, infected people generally have symptoms for a few days before they feel bad enough to go to a hospital.

“I think once we get past this period here, especially with the vaccines ramping up and getting more distributed, and not seeing more holiday gatherings, it should help decrease it as well,” he said. “It’s hard. People are tired of not being with their families, but at the same time I think we’re seeing what happens without protection.”

Joe Cutrone, vice president of business development for Hunter EMS, which provides medical transportation throughout the metropolitan area, accompanied several of his staff members who were receiving the vaccine on Jan. 7. He got the shot earlier in the week, and said he didn’t feel any side effects other than soreness in his arm. “It was easy,” Cutrone said, “and I’ll come back four weeks from now for the second round and be done.”

He also said that the process of registering his staff for the vaccine was simple, and that he would be in communication with those who have been vaccinated to monitor side effects.

“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cutrone said. “As long as we start getting the EMS providers, the hospital staff covered, then it’s less to worry about when you come to work. It will be great once it starts going into the community; that will really slow done the progression.”

Kelly Mulholland, director of infection prevention at Mercy, said that on average, 100 to 125 people are getting vaccinated at the two clinics each day, though she noted that it was slower in the beginning, as they worked the kinks out, with only 30 to 40 people a day.

“I’m very excited to have the vaccine,” Mulholland said. “I think this is a wonderful thing to help us to hopefully remove our masks, and we want to make sure that we can move forward with a healthier future, and it’s encouraging that we’re opening it up to the public as well. It’s important that the health care workers get this first because we do see the sickest people — we are at most risk and we are vulnerable. And unfortunately, there have been many health care workers that have succumbed to the illness, and we don’t want that happening any longer. We want to make sure that we’re there to help and protect our patients, and their loved ones as well. We need us strong with this vaccine first so we can keep our patients safe.”

The list of those eligible for the vaccine in New York state continues to expand, as do distribution sites outside of hospitals and urgent care facilities. This week another vaccination distribution site opened in Nassau County, at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury, in addition to one that opened last week at Nassau Community College. As of this week, teachers, public transit workers and those over 65 can also receive the vaccines.

“The biggest message for the community at this point is that, as we get down to community vaccination, it is safe and people should go out and get it,” Bramante said. “There’s a lot of fear, and that’s understandable, but this is our chance [to come] out of this.”