The first doses of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus have reached Franklin County.
LAVONIA – The first doses of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus have reached Franklin County.
About 20 staff members at St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia were vaccinated Tuesday.
“We are excited about the safety and effectiveness of this first vaccine and others that are going through the FDA review and approval process,” St. Mary’s President and CEO Montez Carter said. “These vaccines hold the promise to end the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives.”
A few members of the Franklin County Emergency Medical Service were also vaccinated Tuesday by members of the health department, EMS Director and interim County Manager Terry Harris said.
District 2 Public Health began vaccinating emergency medical personnel in the Northeast Georgia area Monday.
“Following the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vaccination plan and recommendations from the Centers for Disease and Control to first vaccinate frontline healthcare workers, public health is excited to begin this phase of the coronavirus response,” said the health district’s Dr. Zachary Taylor. “Getting a vaccine to combat this disease and save lives is remarkable. With news of Moderna Vaccine being authorized for emergency use, we will now have two vaccines and will be able to vaccinate more people.”
In these initial stages, while vaccine supply is very limited, St. Mary’s is following state guidelines for determining who will receive the vaccine first.
At the top of the priority list are those who provide face-to-face care to large numbers of patients with COVID, including physicians, advanced practice clinicians and staff in units such as the Emergency Department and ICU.
Next priority will be patient-facing staff who provide care to large numbers of patients not known or suspected to have COVID.
“It’s something of a miracle that science has delivered a safe and effective vaccine in just a year from the eruption of a deadly new virus,” said Dr. Jason Smith, St. Mary’s Chief Medical Officer. “The key was the work done on messenger RNA vaccines over the past two decades, driven by the need to fight other novel viruses such as MERS and SARS. That research led to the development of this new generation of vaccines, which use mRNA to teach the body’s immune system how to recognize and fight the virus without having to use any of the virus itself in the vaccine.”
The first doses delivered to St. Mary’s were manufactured by Pfizer.
St. Mary’s has also requested hundreds of doses of a vaccine developed by the Moderna pharmaceutical company, which was approved by the FDA Friday for emergency use and does not require ultra-cold storage.
In all, St. Mary’s has asked the state of Georgia to provide enough vaccine to vaccinate all colleagues, medical group providers and credentialed physicians.
Carter noted that vaccinating enough of the population to stop the spread of COVID-19 will take time.
Franklin County, Northeast Georgia and the state as a whole are in the midst of a surge in coronavirus cases.
Georgia has reported more than 6,000 new cases of the virus on three separate days – Dec. 10, Dec. 18 and Dec. 22 – in the past couple of weeks.
Franklin and neighboring counties are among the counties with the highest number of new cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks.
A total of 220 new cases have been confirmed in Franklin County in a two-week period, which comes out to a rate of 943 per 100,000 people. The county has about 22,000 citizens in all.
“With the start of vaccination, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not out of the tunnel yet,” St. Mary’s Carter said. “With the holidays starting and COVID rates continuing to rise in our state and region, it’s more important than ever for the whole community to redouble their efforts to fight this virus.”
Carter said it will be necessary to stay vigilant for several months by continuing to wear a mask in public, keeping good social distance, and avoiding large gatherings.
Other measures, such as washing hands often, sanitizing surfaces, and staying home if feeling sick, are effective at fighting all kinds of viral illnesses, including the flu, and should become a regular part of daily living.
“We know all these steps can slow or even stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed,” he said. “We need to mount one last push to keep each other safe while our nation and world vaccinate billions of people, and then we can put this pandemic behind us.”