Nassau County hospital officials and elected leaders are moving fast to prepare for distribution of the first doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after federal emergency-use authorization for it was approved last Friday. New York is slated to receive 170,000 doses in the first batch.
At Glen Cove Hospital, Melonie Pernice, associate executive director of operations, will direct the vaccine’s disbursement. There are 12 vaccine sites in the Northwell Health system, including GCH. Pernice said the hospital was ready and waiting for the go-ahead from the state Department of Health.
Front-line workers in hospitals with the highest numbers of Covid cases will get the vaccine first, and Pernice said that GCH would see deliveries sooner than expected.
“There has been an uptick at our hospital,” she said. “The second surge is real, but we know more now on how to treat patients, and no one is on a ventilator, which is great,” she said. “We also have extra PPE and everything we need.”
The first dose in New York state — and perhaps the nation — was given at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, in New Hyde Park, on Monday morning. It went to a 52-year-old critical-care nurse, Sandra Lindsay, of Port Washington.
Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have each developed vaccines that are more than 90 percent effective in preventing Covid infections, though at press time only the Pfizer vaccine had received federal approval for use outside clinical trials. Moderna’s vaccine would likely get emergency-use clearance from the Federal Drug Administration on Thursday, Pernice said.
Experts say that vaccines should be widely available to the public by April or May. In the meantime, the first doses will go to essential workers, in particular hospital employees, long-term care facility workers and emergency medical technicians, as well as nursing home residents, according to state Health Department protocols.
According to Brian Nevin, the Town of Oyster Bay public information officer, Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein said the vaccine would arrive at CVS and Walgreens this weekend, to be given to those at assisted living centers and nursing homes.
The town, Nevin said, is developing a plan to remind residents about the importance of getting the vaccine. Supervisor Joseph Saladino has reached out to the county Health Department to ask how the town can coordinate its efforts.
“There are 10 senior housing communities that have over 2,000 residents,” Nevin said. “As soon as the vaccine is available, we will reach out to our residents. We want to balance a public-advocacy campaign when the vaccine is actually available.”
Although Sea Cliff village officials have not yet publicly discussed the ways in which they plan to promote the vaccine, Mayor Edward Lieberman said he planned to take it. Given the number of coronavirus deaths, he said, this vaccine is paramount in ensuring public health in the future.
Nearly everyone in the village wears masks when appropriate, Lieberman said, which leads him to believe that they will take the vaccine as well. “I think that the residents of Sea Cliff are of the opinion that any medicinal treatment is in order,” he said, “including taking a vaccine.”
None of the vaccines use the live virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, they give “your body the blueprint for making the antibodies without you having to be exposed to the infection itself,” explained Dr. Dave Neubert, emergency medical director for the Town of Hempstead and an attending emergency physician at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola.
More than half of the respondents to a Truth in Medicine poll conducted by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital, in Oceanside, in October said they would not take a vaccine or were unsure if they would, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of MSSN’s Department of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases. Recent national polls have indicated that the number willing to take it may be climbing, and is now approaching 60 percent.
David Nemiroff, president and CEO of Long Island Federally Qualified Health Centers, said that many people were skeptical about vaccines before the pandemic, so it may be difficult to persuade everyone that getting a shot is safe, but he believes public support will grow.
Glen Cove City Mayor Tim Tenke said he was committed to encouraging residents to get the vaccine. He is planning a virtual video with GCH’s Dr. Brad Sherman, medical director and chair of the Department of Medicine, and Kerri Scanlon, the hospital’s executive director and a registered nurse. “The mayor will submit questions to them in an effort to educate residents and post the virtual video,” said Shannon Vulin, the city’s public relations officer.
GCH’s public relations team has a list of ideas on how best to get the word out about of vaccine’s importance, Pernice said. “Glen Cove is unique,” she said. “We have a relationship with nursing homes and residents. Our advisory committee has some residents on it who are very active in the community. I think it will be easier for us to get the word out.”
Northwell Health has obtained medical-grade freezers to hold the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which must be stored at temperatures well below freezing, according to Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease physician at the health care system.
Despite the vaccines, Sherman said he remained concerned about “Covid fatigue.” “It’s been very difficult,” he said because most people thought the pandemic would end sooner than it has. “People are tired of socially isolating and not seeing their families and their friends, and I think with younger people that’s been a problem. With older people, the problem is the isolation.”
Jill Nossa, Mike Smollins, Jennifer Corr and Mike Conn contributed to this story.