Important Memo About Vaccines

Important Memo About Vaccinations

I’m writing to address the good news that a COVID vaccine was approved last week, bringing us all hope that we will finally be able to control this deadly virus.

The vaccine is being distributed according to a plan by the federal government. Working with a designated pharmacy – CVS – our nursing home residents and staff will be among the first to be vaccinated. We expect CVS will begin administering the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Isabella and Menorah within the next few weeks.

Later this week, the Moderna vaccine should be approved and distribution will start immediately. MJHS has submitted an application to receive the Moderna vaccine (which can be more easily stored) for our frontline clinicians working in the community. We do not yet know whether this will be approved and we don’t know whether all of our employees will ultimately have access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. We are following government guidelines, which are being written now, but we fully expect that all MJHS employees will have access to the vaccine within a few months, and certainly no later than June of 2021.

We strongly encourage that all employees be vaccinated. Make no mistake, COVID-19 is a serious infection. It is not the flu and all of the information we have indicates that the risk of this disease is far greater than the risk of a vaccination. For your safety, and the safety of your family, colleagues, patients, residents and members, please get vaccinated.  

Because we realize there are so many questions about the vaccines and their safety, our physician leadership – Dr. Portenoy, Dr. Butt and Dr. Burgos – will be hosting WebEx sessions for the staff in each of our lines of business in the coming weeks. The first WebEx was held for Home Care and Hospice on Monday and employee feedback has been extremely positive. Isabella and Menorah will also be preparing informational packets for employees. In the meantime, our well-respected physicians have prepared the following update.


What We Know About The COVID-19 Virus

  • This week, the U.S. hit a grim milestone of 300,000 COVID-related deaths. Most of the US is seeing a rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. New York City has been surging too, but not as bad as much of the country. The next two months are likely to be very challenging, and the need to use a mask, distancing, and other infection control practices has never been greater than right now. 
  • The mortality rate from COVID-19 is now 0.5% to 1.0%.  This is far more deadly than the flu. In addition, about one-third of people who recover from COVID-19 have prolonged symptoms such as chronic fatigue, cardiac and pulmonary issues.
  • After continuing to worsen for a few more months, the pandemic is expected to improve as we start to achieve “herd immunity” through vaccination.
  • If enough people get vaccinated during 2021, the pandemic will end.

What We Know About The COVID Vaccine

  • Since the start of the pandemic, 146 vaccines have been studied in animals and 34 vaccines have entered clinical trials. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved under an Emergency Use Authorization and the Moderna vaccine is expected to receive approval later this week. Other vaccines will arrive in 6-12 months
  • While the process for developing and testing these vaccines was fast tracked, the vaccines have been studied in tens of thousands of patients, including diverse demographic groups, and the results have been peer reviewed and studied by the FDA. The medical community has concluded that both vaccines are safe and produce immunity in at least 90% of people who are vaccinated.
  • Not every group has been studied yet, and there is no data about the vaccines’ effect on pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, or people who are immunocompromised. People in these groups should speak with their physicians before vaccination. Children were also not included in the study, so further research/guidance is required prior to vaccinating anyone under 16.
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines:
    • Cannot give a person COVID-19.
    • Produce side effects like a sore arm, and body aches and fatigue, in only 10-15% of those vaccinated. The side effects reflect the developing immune response.
    • Caused a severe allergic reaction in two people who received the vaccine; both had a history of severe allergy to vaccinations in the past.
    • Require two doses (Pfizer 21 days apart; Moderna 28 days apart). The second dose must be the same drug as the first (i.e. both does from Pfizer or both from Moderna).

The Importance of Vaccination

The physician leadership at MJHS strongly recommends vaccination of all staff and patients unless there are specific medical concerns. These should be addressed with your personal physician. From all the information available, the risks associated with COVID-19 are far greater than the risks of being vaccinated.   

National Roll-Out Of The Vaccine

  • The government has prioritized people for vaccination based on the risks they have. The first priorities include nursing home residents and employees, health care personnel (starting with those whose work is patient-facing and high-risk), and first responders in medical roles (e.g., EMTs).  The next priorities are other essential workers and high-risk adults.
  • The vaccine will be distributed initially by large vendor pharmacies (e.g. CVS and Walgreens) as well as hospitals.

We are planning the next round of WebEx’s now and will let you know when they are scheduled. In the meantime, we hope you have found this information useful and that you will join me in being vaccinated.

Alex Balko