First COVID Vaccines Expected in NY on Dec. 15

Male doctor hand wears glove holding syringe and vial with covid 19 vaccine.
Stock Photo from 123RF

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, yesterday, Dec. 2, that the state will receive its first COVID-19 vaccine doses, enough for 170,000 New Yorkers. The vaccines were created by the Pfizer and Moderna companies and are expected to arrive on December 15. 

Following this news, healthcare professionals are gearing up for the massive distribution and administration plan that is already in development.

President of The Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) Thomas D’Angelo penned a letter yesterday to Cuomo indicating an enthusiasm on behalf of independent pharmacists to ensuring vaccines are available to the most vulnerable and traditionally underserved populations that have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“There’s always anti-vaxxer people, people who will wait a little while. The FDA’s job is to make sure the product is safe and effective. I’m sure they’re going to cross their T’s and dot all their I’s,” said D’Angelo about communities that are skeptical of taking the vaccine.

D’Angelo said the whole idea was to incentivize companies and come up with a vaccine quickly that was viable. “It’s quite possible that they did and that the coronavirus is an easier virus to get a hold of a section of it where they can target it for a vaccine. Efficacy studies show 95 percent which is very good for a vaccine. Safety profiles seem to be good,” said D’Angelo.

D’Angelo said from his understanding that the Pfizer vaccine will be going to facilities with “ultra cold storage” capacity, which can extend shelf life for up to six months, and Moderna will be for regular cold storage in local facilities, such as pharmacies and doctor’s offices with refrigeration. He explained that the main difference between the two vaccines was the temperature it needed to be kept at during transportation and storage.

According to Pfizer, their distribution approach in the U.S. will be to largely ship via road and air from a site in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. They have “specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers that use dry ice to maintain storage temperatures” as low as -70 Celsius, or -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moderna’s vaccine is called mRNA-1273 and is a Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA), or a molecular piece of our DNA, said Moderna. The vaccine fights against COVID-19 by teaching our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies, said the CDC. This type of vaccine is entirely new in development and, before the emergence of COVID-19, had “no licensed mRNA vaccines in the United States.” The U.S. government has committed over $1.5 billion to buy mRNA-1273 through a defense contract. 

D’Angelo said at the moment it’s recommended that two vaccinations, four weeks apart, are taken. The first dose being just an introduction and the second being a “booster” to enhance the response. 

“The flu only requires one shot, and it’s a different vaccine that changes annually. Every year people figure out which flu is prevalent and then they design a vaccine around those. So when we give out one in the U.S it’s based on what we’ve seen in the southern hemisphere in their flu season. And that changes every year,” explained D’Angelo.

He said there are possible side effects but not outside the expected side effects that come with usual vaccines. 

Cuomo noted that the positive testing rate in all focus areas under the state’s cluster strategy is 5.88 percent, and outside the focus zone areas is 4.21 percent, in keeping with the trending up infection and positivity rate since before the holiday season began. 

“As we continue to move through the holiday season, the good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but unfortunately it is still a ways away and we are now faced with a set of challenges to overcome before we get there. Not only is the number of COVID-19 cases rising virtually everywhere, but they are stemming from a new source, with nearly 70 percent of cases being traced back to households and private gatherings,” said Cuomo. 

Cuomo said that he plans to address the oversight of Black, Brown, and disadvantaged communities in the federal vaccination plan and disapproves of the “dissuation” of the undocumented community getting vaccines. 

“Winning the war against COVID has to be an inclusive process and only by everyone working together will we be successful,” said Cuomo.