Pharmacists have also delivered the vaccine to 17 of UPMC's 27 long-term care facilities and immunized 830 health care workers and half of the people who live there.By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – UPMC has immunized over half of its employees who work with patients with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It has also vaccinated non-UPMC front line workers, such as EMS.

“Nearly 80% of our frontline workers who have been contacted have indicated a willingness to get the shot,” says Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC.

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So far, only the usual side effects, she says: “Sore arms, some fatigue, muscle aches. But this is a safe and effective vaccine.”

The state has expanded permission for pharmacy and nursing students to be giving the shots.

“We used the influenza vaccine season in the fall to learn how to more quickly deliver vaccines,” says Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. “Each day and each week, we get much more efficient.”

In addition, pharmacists have delivered the Moderna vaccine to 17 of UPMC’s 27 long-term care facilities and immunized 830 health care workers and half of the people who live there. But they are delaying inoculations for people who have had COVID-19.

“Simply because there weren’t enough doses initially,” says Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer at UPMC Senior Communities. “Individuals who have had COVID-19 we know are protected up to 90 days at least. And our goal is to start vaccinating, to get everybody immune that we can.”

With the large numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospital deaths are up, too, though proportionally. The death rate has decreased compared to the spring, due to better therapies and fewer people going on breathing machines.

When it gets to that point, the prognosis is poor — 75% of people over 70 years old on a ventilator will die.

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To keep people out of the hospital, those with early illness can get an IV treatment under emergency use authorization.

“We’ve been highly effective at making monoclonal antibodies available to the right patient at the right time, and that’s before they’re sick enough they need hospital care,” Dr. Yealy says.

With the limited supply of vaccine, UPMC is trying to immunize as many people as possible within its scope to keep the health system running. The dialogue with the state continues about vaccinating the public at large.

In the meantime, wear a mask, keep your distance, avoid gatherings and wash your hands.

“These simple steps are your vaccine,” says Dr. Yealy.

And Pittsburgh stands out in an important way.

“There is a high enthusiasm to get the vaccine,” Dr. Yealy says, “New York and Los Angeles report much lower rates of acceptance of the vaccine. It bodes well for our community.”

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UPMC says it expects additional doses to be coming in consistently.

Dr. Maria Simbra