CUIMC Front-Line Health Care Workers Receive COVID Vaccine

December 21, 2020

Front-line physicians, nurses, and staff at Columbia University Irving Medical Center last week began receiving the initial dose of the COVID vaccine from Pfizer, which received emergency FDA approval on Dec. 11. Through December 20th, 5,378 NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell, and Columbia staff have been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The administration of the Moderna vaccine, approved on Dec. 18, is expected to begin at CUIMC this week.

Jordan Foster, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, was the first physician who was vaccinated.

“I feel hopeful and grateful. The vaccine is an important step in getting our community, and similar communities throughout the country, to a level of immunity that can allow us to resume the relationships and interactions that we too often took for granted,” Foster said on Dec. 15 after receiving the first dose. 

“The sooner we start down the path of vaccination, the sooner we will reach our goals of a safe community. The emergency department will always be busy, but when this pandemic is controlled, the rest of our lives will again be better able to provide the experiences that we have relied on to strengthen us.”

“I feel that having the vaccine will give a sense of protection for the nurses," says Kellie Bryant, DNP, assistant professor of nursing and executive director of the Helene Fuld Health Trust Simulation Center in the School of Nursing, who was deployed to Columbia Nursing’s fever and cough clinic during the height of the first wave in the spring. “We're working in a highly stressful environment, we're dealing with patients who are very sick. To take care of patients and not worry about getting sick yourself, I think that will relieve a lot of stress, a lot anxiety for the front-line workers.”

"Nothing's 100%, I will still wear my mask, I still will be safe. I do believe, from everything I read and see, that [the vaccine was vetted] in a thorough way, and I'm making an informed decision to take the vaccine when it's available,” Bryant adds.

“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine was an incredible, humbling experience,” said Cara Agerstrand, MD associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a critical care specialist at NYP/CUIMC. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of so many individuals that less than one year after the world first heard of COVID-19—after everything that our city and country have been through—that we are now beginning the final chapter of this pandemic. New York did such an amazing job supporting its front-line workers and I feel very lucky to be vaccinated, to give something back to this city and the people in it.”

Initially, vaccines will be in limited supply. Vaccine eligibility and prioritization are determined by the state and the city based on CDC guidance. Federal and state recommendations for vaccine distribution have prioritized front-line health care workers and those who provide on-site support for those front-line workers to be vaccinated first. 

An NYP vaccine committee is addressing vaccine distribution to front-line health care workers, including Columbia health care workers who work in NewYork-Presbyterian. Other vaccine committees at Columbia and CUIMC will establish priorities for future vaccinations of staff and students. 

“The vaccine signals the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” says Steven McDonald, MD,  assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. 

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“We can see the first steps of a return to normalcy. I want to acknowledge the unprecedented global scientific effort and progress that culminates in this protective vaccine. But it's also important to acknowledge there's anxiety around the vaccines in communities of color that have a long and justified history of mistrust towards the medical profession. It is all the more important to amplify Black voices in science and medicine in order to turn the tide and protect the most vulnerable and affected communities through vaccination campaigns.”

For updates on vaccine distribution, CUIMC employees and students are encouraged to visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Information site.