Frontline healthcare workers first to receive vaccine
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
At 9:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 14, a Black man, dressed in UPS brown, delivered perhaps the most important box in Pittsburgh medical history.
The United Parcel Service (UPS) employee, Dallas White, wheeled into the garage of UPMC Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville a large white box containing 975 vials of the FDA-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The UPS delivery driver was met by UPMC officials, who were overwhelmed with excitement at the sight of the long-awaited vaccine.
UPS DELIVERY DRIVER DALLAS WHITE safely delivers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to UPMC officials, Dec. 14. (Photos courtesy UPMC)
A few hours later, UPMC officials publicly administered the first doses of the vaccine to several frontline UPMC workers who provide various aspects of care, including Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, M.D., 42, an emergency department physician at UPMC Children’s, and Ja’Ray Gamble, 29, a transporter at UPMC Mercy.
Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, M.D., 42 (above), and Ja’Ray Gamble, 29 (below), were among the first UPMC employees to receive the first part of the new COVID-19 vaccine, which arrived Monday morning, Dec. 14, at UPMC Children’s Hospital. (Photos courtesy UPMC)
“This is truly a momentous occasion,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC, before administering the first COVID-19 vaccine dosage in Pittsburgh history to frontline worker Charmaine Pkyosh, a 67-year-old advanced nurse practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian. “Over the last nearly 10 months, they (the frontline workers) have worked tirelessly at the front line, taking care of our communities, and have made sacrifices that we will all stand in honor of as we go forward.”
CHARMAINE PKYOSH, a 67-year-old advanced nurse practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian, was the first employee to receive a dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photos courtesy UPMC)
Minnier, a registered nurse for more than 40 years, made the correlation of how roughly 65 years ago, just a few miles from UPMC Children’s, Dr. Jonas Salk created the vaccine for the paralyzing viral disease polio. “And we all know the benefit that humanity has seen from that,” Minnier said.
The other UPMC employees who received the first dosages of the vaccine on Monday, Dec. 14, were Christian Schott, 36, an intensive care unit nurse at UPMC Passavant, and Manny Philavong, 46, an environmental services supervisor at UPMC Passavant.
CHRISTIAN SCHOTT, 36, an intensive care unit nurse at UPMC Passavant, was the third employee to receive a dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.
JA’RAY GAMBLE, 29, a transporter at UPMC Mercy, was the fourth
employee to receive a dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The five UPMC employees who received the vaccine on Dec. 14 will receive the second part of the vaccine in 21 days, Minnier said. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses; one dose via a shot in the arm taken three weeks apart.
Now comes the understatement of the century: The COVID-19 vaccine couldn’t have come soon enough. The pandemic has killed more than 300,000 people in the U.S. and infected more than 16 million Americans. All ethnicities of all ages have been affected, and health experts predict that the winter season will only make things worse.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has shut down pretty much all entertainment-related indoor activities in the state until Jan. 4, 2021, including gyms, bars, bowling alleys and movie theaters. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people; outdoor gatherings limited to 50. The Allegheny County Health Department reported 1,647 coronavirus cases from Dec. 13-14, which brought the seven-day average of new daily cases at the time to 965. Compare that with, say, Oct. 1-2, where there were 94 and 72 total cases in the county, respectively.
Pittsburgh’s African American community has lost some notable members due to COVID-19 recently. The New Pittsburgh Courier reported in its Dec. 2 edition the death of Mon Valley civil rights advocate Clifton Pitts, and Marlon J. Lucas, a longtime bus driver for the Port Authority of Allegheny County. Pitts was 76 years old; Lucas was 57.
Local Pastor Milton Raiford told WPXI-TV (Channel 11) that Lucas “was the kind of guy that if somebody came to church that was troubled, and they were broken, and they didn’t have a father, he was like an oak tree. I would say sit next to Marlon because he’ll provide the shade that you need and comfort that you need.”
At least 94 of the 665 COVID-related deaths in Allegheny County as of Dec. 14 were African Americans, according to county Health Department data.
And while the Pfizer COVID vaccine arrived in Pittsburgh on Dec. 14, it will be months before the general population here will be able to receive the two-part vaccine. The state will first focus on vaccinating healthcare personnel, such as EMS technicians, nurses, transporters, etc. Residents and employees at long-term care facilities will also receive the vaccine.
Next will be other first-responders, other essential workers in places like schools and jails and in law enforcement, and those over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions. Then, those under age 65 with high-risk conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, liver disease, etc., will be vaccinated.
The final phase includes the rest of the general population. It’s hard for anyone to know exactly how long it will take for all Pennsylvania residents who want the vaccine to get it. The Pa. Department of Health said on Dec. 14 the length of time it takes for all to be vaccinated depends on the availability of the vaccine. On Dec. 14, the state said it received 97,500 Pfizer COVID vaccine doses for 66 Pa. counties, with Philadelphia County receiving its own 13,650 doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tasked with allotting the vaccine to states.
Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection and prevention, and hospital epidemiology, said to reporters as the first UPMC employees were about to be vaccinated: “I think we’re starting to see the beginning of the end.”