BY GABRIELE HOLTERMANN
St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway began administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to its frontline workers on Monday and invited members of the media take a look behind the scenes on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
St. John’s serves 140,000 residents on the peninsula and was the first hospital to confirm a COVID-19 patient in Queens back in March. Since then, the community was one of the hardest-hit in New York during the peak of the virus in New York state and the hospital was at 100 percent capacity through June.
In Tuesday’s press conference, the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Gerard M. Walsh recognized the sacrifices his staff made during the pandemic and was thankful to have the vaccine available for them, knowing that they will be protected.
“This certainly will bring people comfort to know that they are protected,” Walsh said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald T. Morrish addressed the community’s healthcare disparities, which put residents at greater risk of COVID-19, with members of the Black and Latino community seeing two-times the COVID-19 death rate as those of white New Yorkers.
“We are trying to lead the charge in trying to correct this disparity and address healthcare on the peninsula,” Morrish said.
The hospital’s focus is currently on administering the vaccine to its 2,300 frontline workers. The hospital’s employees, many of whom live in the community, are educated on the COVID-19 vaccine, and immunization is voluntary. According to a survey conducted beforehand, between 40 and 50 percent of the staff were receptive to the vaccine.
Morrish was one of the 175 patients who already received the vaccine since it arrived on Monday. He said he felt great and hasn’t experienced any side effects.
“I feel great emotionally; I feel great physically,” he said. “I think it is one of those great opportunities, and I’m thankful that the vaccine is available. I’m thankful for all those individuals that went before us in the trials to be vaccinated early to give us such great data.”
St. John’s Episcopal Hospital already had the refrigeration capabilities in place for storing the vaccine. The facility has two ultra-low-temperature freezers in the pharmacy capable of storing Pfizer’s vaccine at the proper temperature of -70°C. Before the vaccine is administered, it is thawed in regular refrigeration units — a process that takes about 30 minutes — where it can be stored for five days.
The hospital’s frontline workers interested in receiving the vaccine do not have to schedule an appointment and can receive the immunization on a walk-in basis. After vaccination, they are observed for 15 to 30 minutes and checked for side effects. So far, none of the 175 who have received the vaccine have not reported any adverse reaction.
As of Dec. 15, more than 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and over 16 million have been diagnosed.