First Vaccines Administered at St. Tammany Health System

From St. Tammany Health System:

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The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived on the Northshore. As part of federal deployment of the groundbreaking Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, St. Tammany Health System began administering vaccine this morning.

STHS infectious disease specialist Dr. Mike Hill became the health system’s first staff member to receive the vaccine at 10 a.m.

A string of Hill’s frontline colleagues followed, including Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Torcson and about 50 other doctors, nurses and environmental services workers. Another 70 or so were scheduled to receive the first of the two-shot vaccine Thursday, with the second dose to follow in 19 to 21 days. Vaccinations will continue daily as STHS receives vaccine from Louisiana Department of Health.

“This is a big day at St. Tammany Health System,” Hill said moments after receiving his vaccine, delivered via injection to his left arm. “It’s been a long time coming and represents a lot of hard work by everybody involved. We’re very excited to have our employees – the people who are taking care of our patients – getting the first vaccines on the way to being protected against COVID-19.”

He added: “This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”

Drs. Hill and Torcson both said it was important for them to be among the first in line to roll up their sleeves as a demonstration of their confidence in the vaccine, which was developed with unprecedented speed as part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program. That speed has prompted some in the public to question the safety of the vaccine, but experts insist the science behind its development is sound and that concerns to the contrary are entirely unfounded.

“This is a perfectly safe vaccine,” Torcson said after receiving his shot. “It really is going to make a significant contribution to ending this pandemic that has really been so devastating worldwide, and certainly in our community here in western St. Tammany Parish. The scientific input and clinical collaboration that went into the development of this vaccine is really unquestionable. This is a safe intervention that’s going to bring this pandemic to an end.”

As production of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ramps up, and as other COVID vaccines hit the market, healthcare workers, residents of retirement homes, first responders and others deemed high-risk will be among those first in line to receive it. Widespread availability to the public is expected this spring, perhaps as early as February.

Even with the deployment of the vaccine, however, Dr. Hill stressed the continued need for social distancing, mask wearing and good hand hygiene, even for those who have been vaccinated. That’s primarily because it’s unclear how long it will protect those who receive it. Also unclear is whether those who have been vaccinated, even if they show no symptoms, are still able to transmit the virus to others.

Wednesday’s historic vaccine delivery comes almost nine months to the day of the arrival of St. Tammany’s first confirmed COVID-19 patient in mid-March. It also comes two days after the first U.S. patients received the vaccine as part of the ongoing federal rollout.

The heartbeat of its community, St. Tammany Health System cares for patients and families with excellence, compassion and teamwork. It is recognized for quality, safety and service excellence by CareChex, Leapfrog, Healthgrades, Hospital Compare, Women’s Choice and US News & World Report. St. Tammany Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 and Ochsner Health work together in partnership to improve the community’s health and quality of life. Together, west St. Tammany’s top two independent health leaders represent the most complete system of care, aligning behind the common goals of improving access, expanding specialty care and making care affordable. Under their agreement, each retains its autonomy; neither manages nor owns the other. Self-supporting, not-for-profit STHS is A+ rated by Fitch and receives no tax funding. More at stph.org.