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‘Very Effective’

UPMC Medical Officials Discuss Vaccine Rollout

From left, Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director; Dr. David Nace UPMC Senior Communities chief medical officer; and Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer, discussing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at UPMC medical facilities during an online news conference Tuesday. Submitted photo

Well over half of the medical staff at UPMC health care facilities throughout Pennsylvania and at its New York and Maryland locations have been inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer; Dr. David Nace, UPMC Senior Communities chief medical officer; and Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director; discussed the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to employees at UPMC facilities.

Minnier said well over half of UPMC employees have received the vaccine during the first month of inoculations. She said some have experienced side effects like sore arms and muscle fatigue. She added UPMC officials have also started to provide the vaccine to EMTs and non-UPMC employees who are health care workers. She said the vaccine will be given soon to police officers and firefighters that are non-UPMC employees.

“UPMC has proven to be a very effective distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.

Nace said UPMC officials started giving the vaccine to seniors and staff members in long-term care facilities on Dec. 29 As of Monday morning, 1,300 people had been inoculated, with 830 health care employees and 475 long-term care residents receiving the vaccine.

“Seventy-five to 80% of the staff have accepted the vaccine,” he said.

Yealy said the vaccine isn’t the only medical treatment UPMC officials are using to fight the coronavirus. He said UPMC health care provider are also distributing monoclonal antibodies, which are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. He said monoclonal antibodies are very effective when they are given to people before they get severely sick. He add when given early enough, the antibodies have kept people out of the hospital.

“Vaccines are not the only tool in our arsenal,” he said. “All of this is to prevent people from hospitalization and to help them recover.”

Yealy said the death rate for people at UPMC facilities who have been infected with COVID-19 over the age of 70 who needed breathing assistance is 75%. He said UPMC’s numbers are consistent with what has been happening around the country. He added the antibodies help to prevent elderly people with COVID-19 from having to be put on breathing machines.

“We’re trying to avoid that particular set of circumstances because the numbers infected have seen higher death rates,” he said.

Yealy said the death rate overall for all COVID-19 patients at UPMC facilities who have not required the use of assisted breathing machines is 9%.

Yealy said the fall rollout of the influenza shot helped prepare UPMC employees for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. He said UPMC officials have been in constant conversation with state and federal officials when it comes to distributing the vaccine.

“This is a big undertaking,” he said.

During the news conference, UPMC medical officials were asked about UPMC employees who aren’t health care workers receiving the vaccine. Minnier said UPMC officials are following the state and federal government guidelines as far as distributing the vaccine to all employees. For example, she said an IT official might not be a health worker, but the employee does work in medical facilities and, at times, is working closely with doctors and nurses who are providing frontline care to patients.

“People would say (an IT official) doesn’t interact with patients, but that’s not true,” she said.

Minnier said UPMC officials are ready to distribute the vaccine to people in phase 1B, which includes adults at least 75 years old; people living and working in congregate care settings who weren’t covered in phase 1A; first responders; correctional officers; food and agriculture workers; and grocery store employees; among others once more is delivered.

“We’re prepared to distribute the vaccine. What we need is the vaccine,” she said.

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