ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in the Rochester region, and local officials are hopeful that this will bring a new chapter in the community’s ongoing fight against the pandemic.
“This has been an incredibly long nine months for our community and nation, but today is a monumental day in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said. “Today is the day most of us will remember for the rest of our lives, because today is the day we can talk about the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in our county.”
County Executive Bello was joined by Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, URMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Apostolakos and Rochester Regional Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo for a media briefing about the vaccine’s arrival locally.
“We know we have a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19,” Dr. Mendoza said. “It has been vetted, it has been studied, and it has gone through a very vigorous process. I will be getting my immunization tomorrow morning.”
Dr. Mendoza said he understood skepticism, but said it’s important to ask questions about the vaccine.
“It has come out relatively quickly, quicker than any other vaccine,” Dr. Mendoza said. “There are many legitimate questions. Before we can even talk about herd immunity, and get to the point where over 70% are vaccinated, we need to do our part in this community to ask these questions, answer these questions, and get to the point where enough of us our vaccinated. We got to this point because of conversation, collaboration, and cooperation across our community. We need to do that again.”
Dr. Apostolakos acknowledge the speed of the vaccine process but said it was a positive thing. “There is concern because this is a vaccine that came to market very quickly. However, I can say no other vaccine in history has been given this much attention or this much work. It wasn’t that corners were cut in developing the vaccine it’s just that so much more effort was put in to do all the steps that enabled us to put out. It’s a modern miracle in 2020 this couldn’t have happened in 1920.”
Dr. Apostolakos said the first shipment of vaccine arrived Monday night, and it has already been administered to some Strong Memorial Hospital employees.
“I can confirm some very welcome news,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “An initial shipment of Pfizer BioNtech vaccine arrived at Strong Memorial and late yesterday we were able to vaccinate 10 employees at Strong. The very first person in Rochester to receive the COVID vaccine, outside of a trial, was Carlos Rosa.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this so I can lead the way. You know, and to be closer to my family. I’ve been very distant because of COVID, and I think I’m taking the right steps and the right movements so I can get closer back to them,” says Carlos Rosa.
URMC’s Chief Medical Officer said most employees surveyed were interested in receiving the vaccine.
“I should note that we surveyed more than 10,000 employees yesterday about their interest in being vaccinated,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “60% said they would like to participate as soon as possible, 27% were unsure, and 13% said were not ready to be vaccinated at this time. The Pfizer vaccine has proven safe and effective, in rigorous trials involving tens of thousands of people, with 95% protection against COVID-19.”
Dr. Mayo said Rochester Regional had also received a shipment of the vaccine.
“Rochester Regional Health has also received vaccine in our order from Pfizer and we will begin today to vaccinate a small number of individuals and ramp up the volume of our vaccine clinic into the hundreds a day later this week.”
Dr. Mayo said as it stands, vaccinations do not change the visitation-limited policies at the local hospitals. “Right now the hospital visitation restrictions are related to the level of COVID positive patients so I can’t say that that restriction would be linked to vaccination rates.”
Dr. Apostolakos said the studies have shown that immunity kicks in around 10 days after the second dose. “Generally after the second dose, 10 days after you’re to be protected. However the data is very good in showing it prevents clinical disease and severe disease. We believe that it limits transmission from person-to-person but that has yet to be proven,” the doctor said.
“For the time being, we’re encouraging the community and those vaccinated to stay masked, stay socially distance and keep your hands clean.”
Dr. Apostolakos said his best guess is that the general public would see the vaccine sometime between June or August. “It really depends on supply. My educated answer to that is I believe sometime between June and August of this year. I believe we’ll get enough supply that we’ll get through the healthcare workers, get through the patients with co-morbid conditions, get through nursing home and nursing home staff and sometime June to August we’ll get to the public. But that depends on supply and some things we can’t control.”
Health officials said Tuesday should be celebrated by all.
“We’ve had to share a fair amount of difficult news over the past 9-10 months and I’m delighted to join with my colleagues to share this great news today,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We expect to receive additional shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in the coming weeks. Hope for an end of this pandemic is on the horizon.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week the Rochester and Finger Lakes region would receive more than 11,000 doses from the state’s first shipment, which arrived in New York state Monday.
A critical care nurse who has treated COVID-19 patients in hard-hit New York City became the first person in the state to receive the vaccine as part of campaign to inoculate front-line health care workers.
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On Tuesday, The Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, bringing it to the cusp of U.S. authorization.