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Porter has begun virus vaccinations

REGISTERED NURSE KELLY Gill was all smiles as she prepared to administer the county’s very first COVID vaccine on Dec. 16. She didn’t get much sleep the night before because she was so excited to be part of the historic moment, she said.

Without ultra-cold storage Porter wasn’t 'eligible to be a direct recipient; instead, us and all hospitals in Vermont — except the UVM Medical Center — are receiving vaccine allocations from centralized DOH depot.'
— Michael Leyden, Porter Medical Center

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center administered COVID-19 vaccines to 193 of its frontline workers last week and was expected to inoculate another 150-170 this week, in what has become the first phase of protecting local health care professionals most likely to have contact with coronavirus-positive patients.
Meanwhile, Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing residents and staff this week were slated to get their first COVID-19 vaccines through a separate program coordinated locally by HealthDirect Pharmacy Services. The plan is focused on an initial 90 Helen Porter residents and approximately 50 nursing home staff, according to PMC spokesman Ron Hallman.
“In 21 days we will do the second dose for the first batch of Helen Porter staff/residents, and then the first dose for the remainder of the staff as appropriate,” he said.
Porter Medical Center thus far has only had access to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, though hospital officials were anticipating delivery of doses of a second vaccine, made by Moderna, as the Independent went to press on Tuesday.
Both vaccines have been deemed more that 94% effective in staving off the coronavirus, and both require the recipient to receive two doses. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, the shots are taken 21 days apart. It’s 28 days apart with the Moderna vaccine, according to PMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anna Benvenuto.
“There’s cause to celebrate,” Benvenuto told Porter employees during a recent virtual “town hall” at which the latest details about the vaccines were unveiled.
“We have successfully started our process of getting our workforce immunized.”
Porter kicked off its COVID vaccination program on Wednesday, Dec. 16, with an initial round of 28 employees served. Benvenuto and PMC Emergency Management Director Michael Leyden said the county’s hospital has been promised enough of the COVID-19 vaccine to treat 900 people. More of the long-awaited substance will flow into the county during the coming months as more is produced and shipped to the Green Mountain State. Vermont must of course wait in line, as the COVID-19 vaccine is being made for a worldwide constituency.

ORDER OF VACCINATION
With input from the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Vermont Department of Health, Porter has put together a pecking order for receiving vaccine doses at this early stage.
Top priority: Folks whom Leyden described as “patient-facing frontline health care workers” based on “risk-analysis and likelihood of patient encounters — including people who could be persons under investigation or COVID-positive — whether they know it or not.”
Workers fitting into this “Phase 1A” category, according to Leyden, include those toiling in the hospital’s Emergency Department, ExpressCare service, and respiratory clinic.
The next-highest priority will be those working in Porter’s medical-surgical unit, where they have a history of managing and treating COVID-positive patients, along with anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists and people working in mobile clinics, according to Leyden.
Other health care workers to get “Phase 1A” clearance for COVID vaccines include Emergency Medical Services staff and volunteers. For example, Middlebury Regional EMS and Bristol-Area Rescue Squad officials were scheduled for special vaccination sessions late last week, Leyden noted.
Not making the cut, for now: All other types of first responders, including law enforcement or firefighters, according to Leyden.
Once the frontline medical workers receive their vaccinations, Porter will pivot to a “Phase 1B” vaccination schedule for “essential workers.” Benvenuto and Leyden said the DOH has yet to define who specifically will be covered in the essential workers category.
A lot of details need to be worked out during what has been a fluid situation regarding the vaccine — which was developed in less than a year. It was only last week that the Moderna vaccine received federal emergency use approval.
Porter officials noted some hospitals are simply unable to store large quantities the Pfizer vaccine for a lengthy period of time. And the minimum order size for direct shipping of the Pfizer vaccine is 975 doses.
“In order to receive that, you have to have ultra-cold, negative-80 Celsius storage capability, which Porter doesn’t,” Leyden explained. “Therefore, we weren’t eligible to be a direct recipient; instead, us and all hospitals in Vermont — except the UVM Medical Center — are receiving vaccine allocations from centralized DOH depot.”
The Moderna vaccine would give Porter and other hospitals more flexibility.
“It doesn’t require ultra-cold storage,” Leyden said. “It can be kept in either a standard refrigeration environment or a standard, pharmacy-grade freezer environment. So it has a bit more of a manageable shelf life. It can be shipped directly to us in hundred-dose batches. So we won’t necessarily have to look to that DOH depot as an intermediary step.”
He added he’d like to see Porter get a “good quantity of Moderna to continue working through our vaccination targets within the Porter workforce, and then expand it to other community health care partners.”
Those partners, according to Leyden, would include primary care outlets not affiliated with Porter, and Addison County Home Health & Hospice.

MASS VACCINATION
“As we move ahead, we’ll build better scheduling mechanisms for both our employees to use through their managers, and also eventually non-employees,” he said. “The DOH locally is working on logistics for a mass vaccination clinic to run through qualifying people in the Phase 1B-and-beyond populations.”
Hallman promised to keep the local health care community, as well as the community at large, informed about the further rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are still working through those details with DOH and have already started reaching out to other area health and human service organizations and essential healthcare workers to obtain numbers and contact information,” Hallman said. “We do not yet have any information or timeline for the general public, but we will be keeping our community posted via our website and our social media channels, as well as the Addison Independent.”
Porter officials are already starting to get questions from people wanting to know more about the vaccines and potential side effects.
“(With) both vaccines we anticipate some reactions to the second dose, including mild fever, muscle aches,” Benvenuto said.
She stressed the side effects won’t completely mimic COVID, as there have been no reports of vaccine users experiencing as temporary loss of taste and/or smell.
The Porter Medical Center website has an extensive primer on the COVID-19 vaccines — along with a series of FAQs. The COVID-related info on the website can be found at tinyurl.com/yd6gqpld.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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