About a minute past 4 p.m. Thursday, Bobbi Jo Hurst injected a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine into the arm of Dr. Joseph Kontra at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s Suburban Pavilion.
Kontra, chief of infectious diseases, called it an honor to be the first person in Lancaster County to receive the vaccine.
The needle prick didn’t hurt and he felt no side effects, he said after sitting 15 minutes to make sure none developed. He even got a sticker: “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!”
Kontra, 65, was one of 10 front-line workers at the health system to get the vaccine on Thursday afternoon. The healthcare system received 1,950 doses earlier in the day and will be administering them over 10 days. Everyone receiving the vaccine will get a second dose after three weeks.
“This is just the beginning of hopefully the end of this pandemic and you have to start with those that are at high risk for contracting the virus and then also transmitting it,” he said. “Eventually, obviously, you want to get to patients, but you need the healthcare worker staff to be healthy so we can do our job and take care of patients.”
‘It’s safe and OK’
Andrea Tilahun, 47, a respiratory therapist, was another of the 10 to get the vaccine and said she hopes it encourages others to do so.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a while, especially with everything we’ve seen with COVID at the hospital. It’s been quite a journey and stressful and I’m just hoping that this helps everybody to know that it’s safe and OK. And please do it — for yourself and for the people you love.”
Also getting the vaccine was Nikkee Asashon, an intensive care unit nurse who wrote a guest column in LNP | LancasterOnline about her experiences treating COVID-19 patients and her frustrations at those dismissive of the disease.
“Just the sense of having the vaccine now is giving us a lot of hope … It helps to be turning, hopefully, to some normalcy,” she said.
WellSpan Health’s hospitals, including Ephrata Community Hospital and York Hospital, also received vaccines Thursday and will be administering them to front-line workers Friday.
On Monday, Charmaine Pykoch, a nurse practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, became the first healthcare worker in Pennsylvania inoculated against COVID-19. The 67-year-old was one of five UPMC staff that day to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech.
Pennsylvania is expected to receive 97,500 doses of the vaccine. Because the vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart, that represents enough to vaccinate 48,750 Pennsylvanians.
UPMC Pinnacle has provided no indication when inoculations could begin at UMPC Lititz, but that vaccinations will start within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine.
Health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, first-responders and critical workers are first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, this means employees in the ER, trauma, labor and delivery, urgent care and at testing sites, said MaryAnn Eckard, a hospital spokeswoman.
The federal government determines the distribution to states.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for coordinating the vaccine’s administration, which will be distributed in three phases. While the timeline is still in flux, health officials believe the general public could get inoculated as early as the spring or summer.
Part of the reason for the short lead time on information is because the vaccine “literally it is coming off the production line” and being shipped out, Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said earlier this week.
For related coverage: