Highlands Administers First Vaccine Round to Hospital Staff

“It’s a sign that maybe we will be seeing a beginning to an end.” That was John Andursky’s thought as the Highlands Hospital CEO and president waited Tuesday to receive one of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered at the Connellsville health care facility. Andursky sat in the Highlands cafeteria, where Mickie Sandusky, registered nurse and infections preventionist, gave him the first of two vaccinations.

In 21 days, Andursky and all those who received initial doses will receive a second round of the vaccine. After the second round is administered, it will take seven to 10 days to take full effect.Andursky was joined by more than a dozen others on Tuesday who received the vaccination. Sandusky said others are scheduled to be vaccinated Thursday and next week.

Highlands received 975 doses of the vaccine. It is being given to hospital employees. The hospital extended invitations to Fayette EMS and Mutual Aid staff members to receive vaccinations. Highlands was one of 22 additional hospitals across the state to receive a total of 30,255 Pfizer doses. That brings the total to 109 hospitals across the state to receive the vaccine. Last week, Excela Health and Uniontown Hospital received doses.

Sandusky said the hospital will receive the second dose that is to be given in another distribution. Employees are not required to receive the vaccine, Sandusky said. She said for the hospital to receive the vaccine, it had to confirm it could store the vaccine safely. Highlands is equipped with the freezer that meets ultra-low temperature storage requirements needed for the Pfizer vaccine. Highlands’ pharmacist Matt Mascia and registered nurse Katie Dillinger helped to administer the vaccines Tuesday. Dillinger said distribution of the vaccine has brought hope. Highlands lab staffer Tammy Guth, one of the first employees to receive the vaccine, said it was exciting, adding it could mean the pandemic will start turning the corner.

On Monday, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available to at least 51 hospitals in the state this week. “These first doses of vaccine are being given specifically to health care workers through hospitals,” Levine said in a press release. “Hospitals are making arrangements to implement these vaccinations, not only to their own frontline staff but to other high-priority recipients. “The number of people we can immunize truly depends on how quickly the manufacturers can make the vaccine.”

Pfizer’s vaccine received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved its use Dec. 13. The vaccine will be available in three phases. Because of limited supplies, the first phase is expected to take several months. Initial administration of doses will go to health care workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The second phase will include essential workers who cannot work remotely and must work in proximity to others. The third phase is vaccinating people of any age not previously vaccinated.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported as of 12 a.m. Tuesday there were 7,962 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 571,551. There are 6,090 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, double the peak in the spring. Of that number, 1,217 patients were in intensive care units.

DECEMBER 23, 2020