Ascension Sacred Heart frontline workers get first doses of Moderna COVID vaccine
Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine Monday and started vaccinating frontline medical staff almost immediately.
Cardiologist Dr. Mark Grise was the first of about 30 people at the hospital to get the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which he called "a medical miracle."
"This is really the first step in fighting this modern-day plague," Grise said. "This vaccine, if you look at the data, it's not just a home run, it's a grand slam. It's incredibly effective. It appears to be safe, and this is the way that we eradicate this disease and get on with our lives and stop having people die of this terrible disease."
Ascension Sacred Heart received 4,500 doses of the vaccine in its first shipment from Moderna, according to Ascension Sacred Heart President Dawn Rudolph.
"The fight's not over," Rudolph said. "This is our first offensive move."
Florida had the Moderna vaccine shipped to 173 hospitals across the state after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine for emergency use Friday.
Ascension Sacred Heart was one of three hospital systems in Pensacola that are expected to receive shipments of the vaccine this week.
A clinical trial of the vaccine showed that it was more than 90% effective in preventing infections of the coronavirus.
Naval Hospital Pensacola began vaccinating its workers last week after receiving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
Kathy Bowers, a spokeswoman for Baptist Health Care, confirmed to the News Journal that the hospital system also received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine Monday. Baptist Health Care operates Baptist Hospital, Gulf Breeze Hospital and Jay Hospital.
West Florida Hospital also received its shipment of the Moderna vaccine Monday, according to spokesman Kendrick Doidge. West Florida will start administering the vaccine to frontline workers Tuesday.
Like other hospitals, Ascension Sacred Heart will first vaccinate frontline workers who have a high likelihood of coming into contact with COVID-19 patients. After all of those employees have been offered the vaccine, it will be available to the rest of the hospital staff.
Rudolph said depending on how quickly future shipments of the vaccine arrive, the general public could start getting the vaccine by mid- to late spring.
Ascension Sacred Heart set up a trial clinic to administer its first doses of the Moderna vaccine within just a few hours of receiving the shipment Monday.
The purpose of the trial was to get staff set up to administer the vaccine to hundreds of Ascension employees in the next few days.
Thirty frontline medical staff from across the hospital volunteered for the first doses Monday. The group included members of Ascension Sacred Heart's COVID-19 unit, emergency room nurses and doctors.
"What we wanted to do is make sure we had those willing to step up first, to be the leaders to take back to their peers, the importance of getting the vaccine," Rudolph said.
Julianne Garcia, a registered nurse in the hospital's pediatric emergency department, said she was excited to get the vaccine, saying it offered a light at the end of a long tunnel.
"I work in the pediatric emergency room and so you never know what's going to come in," Garcia said. "So it's the right choice for me and I think the right patients and definitely for my family."
Rudolph said until the vaccine becomes widely available, the fight against COVID-19 is not over.
"I feel we've done a good job on wearing masks, socially distancing, washing our hands," Rudolph said. "I'm really proud of the Pensacola community for leaning in and doing that. I would just urge them to keep doing it. Until we get through several waves of deployment of the vaccine, we're still vulnerable as a community."
The three main hospitals in Escambia County, including Ascension Sacred Heart, reported that 160 people were currently hospitalized because of the virus on Monday. The number was the highest since this summer and continues a trend of growing hospitalizations from the virus in Pensacola.
Rudolph said they're seeing a trend of people delaying care because of the increasing numbers out of fear of the virus.
"We're seeing people that have delayed care, worried about coming into the hospital, worried about going to their provider," Rudolph said. "Please don't delay care. We have taken extraordinary measures to ensure that we have a safe environment."
Jim Little can be reached at email@example.com and 850-208-9827.