Tennessee’s first COVID-19 vaccination occurs as hospitals wait for Pfizer shipment

Original Story From The Tennessean:First Tennessee COVID-19 vaccination occurs as hospitals wait for Pfizer shipment

The first known COVID-19 vaccination in Tennessee came from an unexpected source.

Dr. William Polk, 62, a Nashville surgeon, received the first dose of vaccine Wednesday afternoon at Clinical Research Associates, a Nashville business that for months has collected data as part of the Pfizer clinical trial. It is the first known coronavirus vaccination publicly reported in Tennessee since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine Friday.

“Basically, I think it’s a fantastic first step,” Polk said Wednesday, dressed in scrubs, moments after he received the injection. “I think that right now we lead the nation, or are second in the nation in new coronavirus cases, and until the vaccine is widespread, we have to keep our guard up.”

Polk’s vaccination came ahead of a highly anticipated vaccine rollout by the Tennessee state government and major hospitals, which are poised to receive their first doses Thursday and begin vaccinations shortly after that. About 56,000 doses are set to arrive at hospitals, and injections could begin within hours.

Clinical Research Associates was able to move swiftly because it already possessed vaccine from the clinical trial. The trial has since been unblinded, allowing CRA to identify participants who were previously given a placebo, and then offer them the real vaccine if they would otherwise be eligible.

Twenty-nine trial participants had been identified to meet these requirements so far, said Will Krugman, a spokesman for the company. Polk was the first and only participant to get the vaccine Wednesday.

Polk received injections from CRA earlier this year but suspected he had received a placebo due to his lack of side effects. CRA contacted him after the blind was lifted and offered him the real thing. The choice was easy, he said.

“The virus is the real deal, and the vaccines appear to be extremely effective,” he said “I so I would really be very much in favor of everyone taking the vaccine when they can.”

Vaccinations poised to begin; smaller hospitals must wait

Many large and mid-sized hospitals will begin vaccinating some but not all of their frontline health care workers after Tennessee’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrives Thursday, but smaller hospitals that aren’t prioritized in the state’s distribution plan will wait until at least next week.

Two Nashville-area hospitals, Nashville General Hospital and Sumner Regional Medical Center, confirmed they will not receive any vaccine from the shipment received in Tennessee this week.

The same is true for at least three hospitals in the Memphis area – Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Collierville and the Spence and Becky Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital. Unity Medical Center, a smaller hospital in Manchester, also confirmed it will not receive any vaccine from the initial shipment.

“We are not getting any vaccine until next week, and it’s quite possible we may only get 100 at a time,” said Kyle Brogdon, a spokesman for Sumner Regional. “So we have to pick and choose – Who gets the first hundred? Who gets the second hundred? And when will the second hundred come?”

Even at the hospitals that are getting vaccine, the supply will fall far short of demand. Nashville’s TriStar hospital group said it expects to receive a shipment of vaccine at just one of its facilities, TriStar Centennial, and then provide doses to the most exposed health care workers at about a dozen TriStar facilities in Middle Tennessee. Ascension Saint Thomas, which has about 10 hospital facilities in Middle Tennessee, said it expects to receive about 975 doses at each of its three largest medical centers.

The three hospitals will get enough vaccine to give one dose to a majority of the health care workers who have high exposure to the virus, but some frontline workers still won’t get a dose, said Dr. Greg James, chief clinical officer for Ascension-Saint Thomas. The hospitals won’t begin vaccinating workers with lower levels of exposure, he said.

“We are anticipating that we will at least get far down into that list, but anticipating also that we will not be done,” James said. “There will be some individuals that we would like to be vaccinated that will have to wait on the next shipment.”

While the vaccinations that begin Thursday are a triumph of medical research, they will also be illustrative of a nation with a desperate need and a limited supply. Tennessee’s initial allotment is not enough to cover all front-line health care workers at the state’s most important hospitals – the highest priority subset of the highest priority population.

Many hospitals and health care workers will instead wait for a second shipment of Pfizer vaccine or a projected shipment of a prospective Moderna vaccine, expected to be authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the weekend.

RELATED:As COVID-19 vaccine distribution starts, here are key facts about Pfizer, Moderna shots

Once authorized, Tennessee plans to get about 115,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be sent to both smaller hospitals and county health departments for use by first responders, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

James, the Ascension Saint Thomas official, said the hospital chain had been assured by state officials that its smaller facility will be “first in line” to receive the Moderna vaccine, expected in a week or two.

In the meantime, Ascension Saint Thomas is coordinating the logistical challenge of scheduling thousands of injections. Workers who are prioritized are receiving emails or texts that leads them to an internal website where they can sign up for their first dose.

The company is encouraging workers to schedule their vaccinations shortly before their next days off, just in case they suffer side effects from the vaccine, expected to be mild, James said.

Health care workers will also sign up to get their second dose sometime in early January. No Tennessean, outside of clinical trials, will be fully vaccinated until the start of next year.

“We’ve been preparing for what seems like some months now,” James said. “We are very excited about receiving vaccine and hopeful that this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic as we know it.”