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COVID vaccines arrive in Worcester; health care providers, staff first to be inoculated

By Susan E.W. Spencer and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

December 15, 2020

Frontline health care workers employed by UMass Memorial Health Care are among those expected to receive vaccinations against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 this week, possibly as early as Thursday, Dec. 17. UMass Memorial, along with other hospitals and health care institutions, including long term care facilities, will provide vaccines to staff and care providers according to guidelines issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Vaccination for health care workers isn’t mandatory, but it is “strongly recommended” by UMass Memorial and the commonwealth that frontline caregivers consider getting the vaccination to protect themselves and patients they care for from COVID.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, for which UMass Medical School participated as a clinical trial site, is the first to be authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. A second vaccine, from Moderna, is expected to receive authorization and be available for use by late December.

Both vaccines use messenger RNA and require two doses—21 days apart for Pfizer’s and 28 days for Moderna’s—for maximum immunity. In clinical trials, both vaccines were found to be more than 90 percent effective.

“I view the availability of vaccine as the ‘beginning of the end’ of the pandemic,” said Robert W. Finberg, MD, the Richard M. Haidack Professor in Medicine, chair and professor of medicine, and a member of Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. “UMass Medical School had a major role in where we are today. This vaccine was developed faster than any vaccine in the past because of new breakthroughs in our understanding of RNA biology, which has been facilitated by our UMass Medical School scientists, and by the ability of our clinician scientists to execute large clinical trials.”

“This is a hopeful and historic day for our nation and for us here at UMass Medical School,” said UMMS Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “As the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine are administered to people across the country, we can be proud that UMass Medical School was one of the first clinical trial sites, ensuring that the vaccine was safe, effective and met the FDA’s rigorous standards. We applaud our physician-scientists for rising to that challenge. I assure you that they remain hard at work right now, finding better ways to take care of patients and conducting countless experiments to better understand this virus and how it may change in the future.”

On-site delivery of the Pfizer vaccine to UMass Memorial Medical Center took place early on Tuesday, Dec. 15, with the first scheduled vaccine administration in the old Medical School lobby on the University Campus and Knowles Hall at the Memorial Campus, starting within a day or two of delivery.

Vaccine administration at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital and UMass Memorial-Marlborough Hospital will start around Dec. 18.

UMass Memorial’s vaccine administration will roll out in a phased approach to be timed with the delivery of the vaccine. The timeline set by Massachusetts health officials, based on federal guidance, is:

Phase 1 (December 2020–February 2021), in order of priority:

  • Clinical and nonclinical health care workers doing direct and COVID-facing care
  • Long-term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities
  • Police, fire and emergency medical services
  • Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)
  • Home-based health care workers
  • Health care workers doing non-COVID-facing care

Phase 2 (February–March 2021)

  • Individuals with two or more co-morbid conditions (high risk for COVID-19 complications)
  • Early education, K-12, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers 
  • Adults 65+
  • Individuals with one co-morbid condition

Phase 3 (Starting in April 2021)

  • Vaccine is expected to be available to the general public

In each population group, vaccine access is urged to be prioritized for geographic areas and populations identified as socially vulnerable.

Related links on UMassMed News:
Robert Finberg details next steps for COVID vaccine
Keeping the workplace safe: UMMS infection control officer forges COVID response
COVID-19 vaccine trial reports high effectiveness; UMass Medical School key enrollment site