WINDBER – Hospital staff said a prayer before the first COVID-19 vaccine injection in the region was given to Acute Care Director Christine Spinos at the Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber.

Vaccinations for more than 100 staff followed throughout the day Friday.

Spinos and her staff work with COVID-19 patients day in and day out and have family members susceptible to the virus, she said.

“I certainly don’t want to come down with COVID,” Spinos said. 

Dr. David Csikos, the hospital’s chief medical officer, was also among those who chose to be vaccinated Friday.

“The bottom line is, it’s safe,” Csikos said. “It’s effective. It’s going to decrease COVID-19-related deaths, admissions to intensive care units and decrease the number of patients placed on ventilators.”

Csikos advises those who are vaccinated to continue to practice personal COVID-19 safety measures. 

“One thing we are not sure about is if someone, even though they are vaccinated, is exposed to COVID-19, can they carry it and transfer it?,” he said. “I am hopeful that we will get an answer to that question. But it is important that once vaccinated, people should still wear masks, social distance, and practice good hand-washing and hygiene.” 

The vaccine came in a single box delivered Thursday by UPS, and contains enough doses for all 900 of the hospital staff if they choose it, he said. 

It’s a two-dose vaccine. Those who received their first doses Friday were given cards to return in three weeks for the second doses. The first dose boosts immunity to COVID-19 by 50% and the second increases it to 95%, Csikos said.

Csikos said he highly recommends that hospital staff take the vaccine, but it is not mandated by the state and the hospital has the same policy, he said. 

“We are respectful of individuals’ decision-making, so it’s not mandatory,” Csikos said. “I think there is concern that it is a new vaccine, and it was established in a record amount of time. But all of the data from trials with more than 150,000 participants has shown that it is safe.”

Osteopathic doctor Craig Fockler took the vaccine at the hospital Friday. 

“I think it is important for everyone to consider getting the vaccine,” Fockler said. “Talk to your doctor about it. People think it was fast-tracked. It was financially fast-tracked, but it was not fast-tracked through safety. The government supported it financially so they could do bigger trial groups.”

Companies usually do smaller trial groups over longer periods of time because it is expensive to do large trials, he said. The virus emergency vaccine was different. 

“It wasn’t fast-tracked through safety,” Fockler said. “It was fast-tracked financially.”

On Dec. 11, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.  

The federal government is allocating the vaccine to states. For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the first doses of the vaccine to be offered to health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. 

Pennsylvania is following the CDC’s guidelines. 

The state Department of Health’s website says its goal is to ensure every Pennsylvanian who wants a vaccine can be vaccinated, but allocations of the vaccine are scarce for now.

The department has no specific timeline as to when the general public can be vaccinated. 

“Many health-care providers are being enrolled and will be able to administer COVID-19 vaccinations,” the department’s website reads. “Many pharmacies, health centers, doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics, mass vaccination clinics will be providers of the vaccine.”

Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center CEO Tom Kurtz praised the state’s ability to deliver the first phase of the vaccine to health-care workers and looks forward to the next phases that will bring the vaccine to the broader population.

“I’d like to congratulate the Pennsylvania Department of Health for getting the COVID-19 vaccines out efficiently despite the snowstorm,” Kurtz said. “Our vaccines arrived in a timely manner, so that we were able to start administering them (Friday). The kits are complete and include all the materials we need to record and administer the vaccine to our employees. It confirms our belief that the DOH can get these vaccines out to the general public when the time comes.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.


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