Officials from the UPMC Health System on Tuesday cheered an announcement by the Trump administration, which echoed an announcement by the incoming Biden administration that steps will be taken to speed the availability of COVID-19 vaccine.
Chief among the changes announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was that going forward, the federal government will base each state’s allocation of vaccines partly on how successful states have been in administering those already provided.
“If you are not using vaccines that you have the right to, then we should be rebalancing to states that are using that vaccine,” Azar said at news conference. That won’t happen overnight, not until officials try to sort out whether lags in reporting could be the reason for what appears to be subpar performance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that only about 35% of the available vaccines had been administered.
The UPMC officials, at a video conference Tuesday, said that news was welcome.
Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC, said about 9,000 UPMC workers had already received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
‘When a job needs done, we roll up our sleeves and get it done — in this case literally,” she said.
Minnier said side-effects had been limited to sore arms, fatigue and muscle aches, but there had been no major problems with the vaccine so far.
Minnier said UPMC was “absolutely prepared to administer the vaccine. What we need is the vaccine.”
All agreed that the vaccine program has gotten off to an uneven start, but Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency, said problems are being worked out.
“Each day and each week we get much more efficient,” he said. “It’s going to take smarts and cooperation.”
The state Department of Health has announced that it has adopted the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations on priorities for vaccine distribution.
To this point, priority has been given to health care workers, emergency medical responders and workers and residents in long-term care facilities.
The next group, an estimated 49 million people nationwide, will include police, firefighters, teachers and school personnel; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit and grocery store workers. This group also includes 19 million seniors 75 years old or older.
Next will be remaining seniors, 65 to 74 years of age, and other “essential workers” in transportation and logistics, food service, shelter and housing (including construction), fnance, information technology and communication, energy, media, legal, public safety (engineers), water and wastewater. This group also includes people between the ages of 16-64 with high-risk conditions.
Yealy observed that the federal decision to prioritize regions that are utilizing the vaccine should help here.
Unlike some other regions, the vaccine has been received with “a high degree of enthusiasm” in the region served by UPMC, and “that bodes well for our community.”
In the meantime, Yealy updated reporters on progress with UPMC’s therapy involving monoclonal antibodies, which he said has been largely successful.
“If given early in their illness this medication can help keep people out of the hospital,” he said.
In general, he said, treatment of all cases continues to advance.
“Compared to the spring, overall COVID-19 outcomes are improved,” he said.
But until vaccine becomes widely available, Yealy urged people to continue to take steps such as wearing a mask that completely covers the nose and mouth, limiting exposure to large gatherings, social distancing, and “vigorous” hand hygiene.
“These simple steps are your vaccine. We know that they work,” he said.