As we await the arrival of the first round of COVID-19 vaccine, President and CEO Steve Edwards and Dr. Robin Trotman updated local media Thursday afternoon.
CoxHealth will receive the Moderna vaccine in the coming days and we are planning to vaccinate the first CoxHealth employees on Monday, Dec. 21.
Edwards noted that the first vaccine would be delivered on the same day that the rare Christmas or Bethlehem Star will appear.
"This is a wonderful, hallelujah moment," Edwards says. "It's deeply emotional for me, just knowing that after a hard fight, we can protect employees."
More than 5,000 employees have already signed up to receive the vaccine.
"I am already getting feedback from employees telling me this is the best Christmas present ever," Edwards says. "They are very excited."
Late Friday, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine.
The decision followed a lengthy panel review on Thursday.
All Thursday afternoon, Dr. Trotman had been closely following the deliberations.
All afternoon, Dr. Trotman was closely following the deliberations.
"He's been watching it like college football and giving me the play-by-play," Edwards says.
Dr. Trotman had reviewed the 54-page FDA briefing document and found a lot to be encouraged about.
"I've been through it with a fine-toothed comb and there is nothing that concerns me. In fact, everything is pleasantly surprising," he says.
Dr. Trotman followed the livestreamed FDA deliberations Thursday afternoon during the press event.
'EVERY CORNER OF THE DATA IS ENCOURAGING'
Dr. Trotman briefly explained a few details about the vaccine.
The vaccine appears to offer some degree of protection after the first dose. "That is encouraging for our next few months," he says.
The first dose primes the immune system and the second dose (28 days later for the Moderna vaccine) boosts it.
"The first dose creates an antibody response, but it's the second dose that affords the immune system the ability to have long-term memory sitting in cells in our lymph nodes," Dr. Trotman says.
It's not clear yet which response protects the body from illness, but we are likely to have clues in the coming months.
"There are still questions, but every corner of the data right now is encouraging," Dr. Trotman says.
Another key note: The vaccine does not prevent infection. It helps the body create antibodies, and those antibodies protect you from severe illness.
So, the vaccine will likely keep you from becoming severely ill, but you could still get infected, and possibly pass that infection to someone else.
"We know that when people get the vaccine, they do not get sick or end up in the hospital," Dr. Trotman says. "We still do not yet have evidence that vaccinated people don't have the virus present in their respiratory system where it can transmit."
However, there are studies coming. In the meantime, we will need to maintain precautions with masking and physical distancing.
"If we want to squash (the pandemic), we are going to have to keep out foot on the gas with our public health measures," Dr. Trotman says.
'THIS IS A GAME CHANGER'
When the vaccine arrives, it will bring with it several things we need: safety, hope, and the beginning of a path to normalcy.
To be at that point less than a year into the pandemic is nothing short of amazing.
"This is the greatest scientific, medical feat we will see in our lifetimes," Dr. Trotman says. "To identify an infection, have a genetic sequence, share it across the world, and have governments and industry collaborating on a vaccine. There has been nothing like this. Ever."
Edwards and Dr. Trotman both agree they will rest easier knowing that staff members who care for our patients and put their own safety on the line will be protected.
Dr. Trotman says he also sees clearly the benefit a vaccine will have for our community as a whole.
"I am excited for people to have some relief and some hope. As a citizen, this is a game changer for me, too. I want to go out for Mexican food with my family, and to go to the movies. This gives me some comfort to go out, while still taking precautions with masks and distance.
"This will allow us to make it through the home stretch, which might be rough with more cases through the Christmas holiday. But, people will be more likely to hunker down and do what's right with some hope."