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The COVID-19 vaccine can’t arrive soon enough for New York, which is getting deadlier by the day.
New York City saw 2,575 new coronavirus cases Saturday and 116 deaths over the last week. The rate of city residents testing positive on COVID tests over seven days rose to 6.26% Saturday, almost a full percentage point over Friday’s 5.35%. The number of those hospitalized across the state rose to 5,321 Thursday, a level last seen in May.
The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be in the hands of local hospitals Monday morning, with healthcare workers getting their shots within hours of arrival. Pfizer has said the vaccine is 95 percent effective after two doses.
“I’m beyond excited with the prospect of having the one tool that we know will stop this terrible pandemic,” said Susan Mashni, the Mount Sinai health system’s chief pharmacy officer. “To be able to have the first vaccines by the end of this year is nothing short of a miracle.”
The miracle came after the FDA approved the emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine Friday night. New York is slated to receive 170,000 doses. Another 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive the week of Dec. 21.
Pfizer’s doses are slated to leave its Kalamazoo manufacturing plant Sunday morning packed in boxes with dry ice to maintain the required temperature of minus-70 degree Celsius. City hospitals have special freezers standing ready.
The vaccine must be thawed and diluted with a sterile solution before they can go into waiting arms. Kits containing syringes and other needed supplies have already arrived at some hospitals.
Mashni explained to staff at Mount Sinai Queens that they will have just 90 seconds to unload boxes of the precious vials and put them in the deep freeze. They must wait 20 minutes before opening the freezer door again, she told them, according to a video provided by the hospital.
“It’s going to have to be very well orchestrated,” Mashni told staff.
Each of Mount Sinai’s hospitals is expecting to get at least 975 doses.
Mashni said among those workers first in line for shots are those who would be most exposed to patients with the virus.
“It’s not just the doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists.” she said “It’s also environmental service workers, food service workers, transportation people, security guards.”
Northwell Health, the state’s largest hospital network, is set to begin vaccinations within hours of the doses arriving. The network said it has identified its most at-risk workers by using a matrix that considers risks like age, geography, their department and level of patient interaction and will vaccinate them on a rolling basis as shipments come in.
Dr. Magdy Mikhail, the acting medical director of the BronxCare network, which runs Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, said it expected to receive 8,000 doses with half to be saved for the needed second shot.
Mikhail said the hospital was planning two dry runs starting Monday to test the logistics of preparing and administering the vaccine and how to respond to any allergic reactions, a side effect experienced by two people in the United Kingdom.
“We will practice every step of the way,” he said.
Nursing homes, where as many as 11,000 New Yorkers have died of the coronavirus, will get the shots on Dec. 21.
“I can’t tell you how enthusiastic I am that this vaccine is here and there’s a date on the calendar this pandemic is over,” said Scott LaRue, the CEO of ArchCare, the nursing home network associated with the Archdiocese of New York.
The distribution process will be handled by Pharmscript, the company that provides pharmacy services to ArchCare’s five homes, which have a total of 1,700 beds.
“The nursing home never has custody of the vaccine per se. The pharmacy is responsible for the distribution of the vaccine and actually vaccinating our patients and our staff members,” LaRue said.
Residents will be vaccinated in their rooms and staff in booths that will be set up in common areas. Extra clinical staff will be added to monitor people for any side effects.
LaRue said there was no need to prioritize which staff will get it first.
“There will be sufficient vaccine that they can all receive it,” he said.
ArchCare’s Carmel Richmond nursing home on Staten Island was particularly hard hit by the deadly bug with 63 confirmed and suspected covid deaths, according to state DOH tallies.
Bill Pascocello, administrator of the Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan, where 58 people died of the virus, said staff were going through the process of getting authorizations to vaccinate residents.
“Some people, I think, are concerned about being first up (and) some people are happy about being first up,” he said.