Few frontline workers have seen the terrible impact of COVID-19 as intimately as home health-care workers. So plenty are lining up for the new vaccine, but others have serious doubts.
That’s why Terrace Daniels, director of operations at the home-care agency ComForCare, made certain to be at Montgomery County Community College on Wednesday as the Philadelphia area’s first public vaccination site for health-care workers opened for business.
“We take care of really vulnerable people,” Daniels said. “There is a lot of skepticism about this vaccine, but I can’t ask my staff to go out and get it if I don’t.”
Because those facing the highest exposure risk, including health-care workers and residents of nursing facilities, are the only people eligible for this first round of vaccinations, there is no timeline for when the vaccine will be available to the general public.
But Montgomery County’s new regional vaccination site could provide a blueprint for larger-scale efforts.
Daniels, who lives in Philadelphia but works in Montgomery County, was among 800 health-care workers scheduled to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses. The vaccination site is open to any employee in a county health-care facility, regardless of where they live. An appointment is required.
Most of the vaccine, from Moderna and Pfizer, is being distributed directly to hospitals. To date, the county has received 7,000 doses and expects to administer 800 doses a day at the new site. So it could run out of vaccine quickly.
Daniels and others said they are hearing skepticism especially in the Black community about the vaccine for numerous reasons. Among them: the history of racism in American medicine, the quick turnaround to create the vaccine, and conspiracy theories spread on social media. Yet they also said they felt a duty to get vaccinated.
Kim Even, an optometrist who lives in Blue Bell, had no hesitation to be among the first at the site Wednesday.
“I wanted to be vaccinated quickly because in our profession we are inches away from our patients every day,” said Even, who has been practicing for 35 years.
She said she wanted protection for both her patients and herself. Prior to COVID-19, she saw two or three patients an hour but sees fewer now because of the precautions that must be taken to avoid exposure. She was on two other waiting lists for the vaccines before getting Wednesday’s appointment.
Val Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and also a physician, said during a news conference that the goal of the vaccination site is to create “bubbles of safety” within the community, though many of those getting vaccinated may live in other counties.
A similar situation exists in hospitals all over the region that are vaccinating employees who may live in other counties or states as part of a regional approach.
“Right now, the demand for vaccinations is far greater than our supply,” Arkoosh said, asking those who registered on the website, but who haven’t yet received an appointment, to be patient.
“We are focusing on those with the highest risk for contracting the coronavirus, such as hospital workers,” Arkoosh said.
But for doctors in outpatient offices, dentists, and medical first responders that have registered, Arkoosh said, “please know that we’re doing our best to respond to everyone as quickly as we can.”
Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., vice chair of the county Board of Commissioners, echoed Arkoosh in saying the vaccine is effective and safe, and pleaded with the community to “not get your medical information from social media.”
Willie Mae Bell, a nurse with the county’s Office of Public Health, called the opening of the vaccination site an important step.
“I could not wait to get this vaccine,” Bell said. “I have seen the ravages of this virus.”
Cornelia Lavong, vice president of clinical operations at Red Lion Home Health Care, said she has heard doubts about the vaccine, considering the seemingly short time it took to develop compared with past vaccines.
While it has been only a year since the virus even emerged, experts say the speed is due not to any shortcuts but to the massive international effort that has been poured into vaccine creation, as well as the fact that the vaccines were made on a platform that had been created well before now. The vaccines have been tested on thousands of people in clinical trials.
Lavong had no hesitation about getting the injection, especially “when you look at what is happening to those who fall victim to the virus.”