CHA plans 1,000 vaccinations before Christmas for frontline workers treating Covid-19 patients
Cambridge Health Alliance expects to have close to 1,000 doses of a new Covid-19 vaccine in hand before Christmas, infectious diseases chief Dr. Lou Ann Bruno-Murtha said Monday. The Alliance is making plans to vaccinate nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and other employees “who spend their time primarily taking care of Covid patients,” she said. Most doctors probably won’t be first in line, Bruno-Murtha said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering two applications for emergency authorization of a vaccine, from Cambridge-based Moderna and from Pfizer of New York in partnership with BioNTech of Mainz, Germany. Pfizer, which already won emergency approval from Great Britain, filed first with the FDA, on Nov. 20, with Moderna about a week later.
The FDA’s vaccines advisory committee will meet Thursday to consider the Pfizer vaccine, and approval could follow soon after. Doses will be distributed to states based on their population. Bruno-Murtha said state officials first told the Alliance it would get the Moderna vaccine but last week said it expected to get the Pfizer product.
The Alliance was told that after the expected FDA approval, “we will have [the Pfizer vaccine] in the state by the end of next week,” Bruno-Murtha said. Both the federal government and the state are giving high priority for vaccinations to frontline health care workers, including those in nursing homes. Nursing home residents and essential workers outside of health care are also high on the list. Cambridge health department officials haven’t disclosed a plan for vaccination except to say that the city’s flu shot clinics have served as a dry run for distributing coronavirus vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccine, unlike Moderna’s product, requires storage at extremely low temperature. Bruno-Murtha said doses will come in a special storage container and “our pharmacy staff are confident we can maintain” the proper temperature by adding dry ice when necessary.
Alliance employees won’t be required to get vaccinated, which wouldn’t be ethical to do so until the FDA gives conventional approval, she said, and that can take years. Still, for the fast-tracked Pfizer vaccine, “we have a lot of staff who are anxious to get it,” Bruno-Murtha said.
“We are making a very concerted effort to be transparent about why it’s important,” Bruno-Murtha said. CHA needs to succeed on that front to do well persuading patients to get vaccinated, she said.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, but both companies say the full vaccine processes are more than 90 percent effective at preventing people from getting infected. Pfizer and Moderna are using a new method that injects synthetic genetic material that tells muscle cells to make harmless coronavirus proteins to prepare the immune system to recognize and defend against the virus if someone gets exposed.
The method has never before been used to make a vaccine. Using synthetic material enables manufacturers to design and make vaccines more quickly than conventional methods using inactivated virus and other biological material, researchers have said.
At a Nov. 19 meeting of the city’s Expert Advisory Panel, Bruno-Murtha said she didn’t expect the Alliance to vaccinate employees before February because the Alliance was in line to get Moderna vaccine and she wanted to see two months of safety data on the vaccine before going ahead. Bruno-Murtha said Monday that she hadn’t been aware at that time that the FDA had already told vaccine developers it wouldn’t accept an application for emergency use without two months of safety information after vaccine trial participants got their second injection. Both Pfizer and Moderna have submitted the required reports about side effects of their vaccines.