LOS ANGELES (Nov. 17, 2020) -- The first wave of Cedars-Sinai staff members are receiving the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine Thursday morning, an occasion that is bringing hope and relief to those who have fought on the medical frontline for nearly a year against the deadly illness.
"I am incredibly excited to be among the first group of healthcare workers to be offered the vaccine," said Sam Torbati, MD, co-chair and medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai. "The vaccine gives us an additional, invisible shield and layer of protection."
Healthcare workers in Cedars-Sinai's intensive care units and Emergency Department were the first to be offered vaccinations, which are voluntary.
As healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents receive vaccinations, Torbati says the region's healthcare systems should be able to get a better handle on the pandemic.
"This gives me great hope," Torbati said.
The California and Los Angeles County departments of Public Health are determining when and how the general public can receive the vaccine, which is administered in two shots.
"Although this is a turning point in our fight against COVID-19, our staff will continue to employ other proven prevention methods such as wearing masks and gloves, maintaining physical distance from others, washing hands frequently and avoiding crowds," said Richard V. Riggs, MD, Cedars-Sinai's chief medical officer.
Cedars-Sinai is one of several local hospitals to receive the vaccine developed by Pfizer, Inc. The medical center has capacity to house more than 450,000 doses of the vaccine onsite in several ultra-cold freezers at the vaccine's required -80 degrees Celsius.
"To actually be involved in the planning and thinking through how we're going to make this available to our healthcare workers, and ultimately, to patients here and elsewhere is extraordinarily exciting, and we're so hopeful," said Rita Shane, PharmD, chief pharmacy officer. "I feel very privileged to be a part of this."
For Michael Nurok, MD, PhD, medical director of the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit in the Smidt Heart Institute, receiving the vaccine soon – and knowing others at high-risk are shortly behind him – means peace of mind. "I will sleep better at night knowing those at highest risk are beginning to be vaccinated," said Nurok. "I'm looking forward to receiving my immunization."
That sentiment is also true for Torbati, who says individuals living at long-term care facilities – another first-in-line population set to receive the vaccine – are often older and have underlying medical conditions.
"Many of these individuals require hospitalization and the mortality rate in this population is quite high," said Torbati.
The Pfizer vaccine has received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. For a vaccine to receive this approval, it must pass rigorous scientific and regulatory processes that demonstrate its safety and effectiveness. Scientific evidence to date has shown the Pfizer vaccine to be 95% effective in clinical trials.
As Torbati notes, Cedars-Sinai has participated in regular virtual meetings with the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Los Angeles Department of Public Health to discuss the vaccines safety and efficacy.
"We are all delighted with the initial results," said Torbati.
And while Cedars-Sinai is reeling with excitement as vaccinations begin, Torbati says it is realistic to expect to have mild side effects.
"Similar to other vaccines like the flu and tetanus, our bodies may elicit an immune response and we may feel sore or achy," said Torbati. "This is how vaccines are designed to work."