Beebe Healthcare nurse Sintia Rodriguez stepped up Dec. 16 to become the first person vaccinated for COVID-19 in Sussex County.
The Lewes resident, who works in Beebe’s emergency department and behavioral health unit with COVID-19 patients, many from her community, looked confident as she stood first in line for the shot at Beebe Healthcare.
“I’m grateful to get this. It represents something good to do for the community. If it prevents people from getting sick, why not get the vaccine?” she asked.
Beebe received its shipment of 630 doses from the Delaware Division of Public Health just hours before Rodriguez received the first dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine.
Five frontline team members received the vaccine, including Rodriguez; Amy Williams, a charge nurse caring for COVID-19 patients; George Parker, manager of environmental services; Dr. Ercilia Arias, a pulmonologist in Beebe’s Intensive Care Unit; and Dawn Adili-Khams, a respiratory care practitioner.
The vaccine is administered in two doses with a follow-up shot three weeks after the first.
“This vaccine is amazing,” said Dr. William Chasanov, leader of Beebe’s COVID-19 response, before he administered the shots. “We started talking about the virus a year ago, and 12 months later we have a vaccine. It’s a game-changer.”
Chasanov said Beebe has ultra-cold storage capable of storing vaccine vials at temperatures down to minus-100 degrees. He said Beebe should get another vaccine shipment next week.
Parker, of Millsboro, said he knows some people are afraid and concerned about getting the vaccine. “I’m getting the vaccine today because I want to show people it will be OK. Hopefully, everyone joins me. I have no problem with it,” he said.
Adili-Khams, of Lewes, said she didn’t think twice about getting the vaccine. She had a mild case of COVID-19 in July and said she’s seen how bad the virus can be. “It’s scary how quickly someone can deteriorate,” she said,
Chasanov administered the first shots with assistance from nurse Kim Blanch. Chasanov said even with the vaccine, it’s important to stay vigilant.
“It will be critical for us all to continue to wear a mask, wash our hands, and watch our distance with those outside of our household,” Chasanov said. “This vaccine shows promising signs of efficacy, and limited and minor side effects, but there is still much to learn about whether the virus can be spread from a vaccinated individual. Still, today was a great day for Beebe, Sussex County and the state of Delaware.”
Tiered approach for vaccine rollout
Beebe has developed a tiered approach to provide the vaccine to team members, based on federal recommendations, which focuses on high-risk groups that come into direct contact with patients. This tiered system was created under the guidance of COVID-19 vaccine playbooks created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Delaware.
“This historic moment exceeded all expectations,” said Beebe Healthcare President and CEO Dr. David Tam. “We have planned and prepared for this, but to witness Beebe’s frontline healthcare workers receive an extra layer of defense against this deadly virus that we all have been battling since March was truly something special. We know this vaccine is a valuable tool in returning to our pre-pandemic normal. In the coming weeks, as more vaccine supplies arrive, Beebe will continue to care for the community. Beebe remains open and safe for all who are in need of care.”
As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available for the public, Beebe is finalizing operational plans to provide them to the community.
During the Lewes Board of Health meeting Dec. 15, Dr. Paul Cowan, Beebe’s emergency medicine specialist, said there are more than 3,000 team members working at Beebe, so he expects the two-dose vaccinations of Beebe employees to continue as more shipments come in weekly.
Delaware received its remaining 7,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Dec. 16 for a total of 8,775 doses. More Pfizer vaccine is expected in future shipments, and a shipment of 16,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine is expected to arrive in Delaware during the week of Dec. 21.
“This is really good news, because it will enable us to vaccinate populations, those who are dealing with patients every day,” said Gov. John Carney during his weekly press conference Dec. 15, the same day Delaware's first vaccination was given.
Carney said hospitals are managing capacity for critical care by reducing nonurgent procedures and prioritizing which elective procedures to limit. “One of the challenges we face is preserving our hospital capacity,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released hospital data Dec. 15 that shows Delaware has a total of 2,155 inpatient beds and 307 ICU beds. Numbers show 72 percent of inpatient beds are in use, with about 15 percent of them occupied by COVID-19 patients. This comes as Delaware hit a new hospitalization high of 407 on Dec. 16 with 58 in critical care.
Despite the new highs and second wave of cases, Beebe Healthcare has fared well. Overall, Sussex County has continued to level off, with hospitalizations hovering between 62 and 75 cases from Dec. 2 to Dec. 15.
Tam said capacity at the Lewes hospital has not yet been an issue during the recent surge in positive cases.
“New Castle County and Kent County have been hit hard with COVID inpatients,” he said. “Health systems in both counties have surpassed the spring peak. So far, Beebe remains below. We continue to hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
Unlike in the spring, when Beebe was forced to postpone all elective procedures, Tam said, Beebe is continuing to operate as close to normal as possible during the latest spike.
“Beebe remains open,” he said. “One of the things we want people to do is go to the emergency room if they are concerned, or go to their doctor, because it’s safe,” he said. “The last thing we want is people to hold off to the point where they need hospitalization.”
Carney said the acuity of COVID-19 cases has dropped from where it was during the spring surge. “The illness that they are seeing is not quite as bad as they saw in the spring,” he said.
Patients are moved out of the hospitals into assisted-care facilities, allowing for more available hospital rooms, Carney said, and new treatments are now available.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, Division of Public Health director, said a treatment known as monoclonal antibodies has arrived in Delaware and been given to patients.
“Monoclonal antibodies are man-made, and they are made to specifically work against COVID-19 virus. They neutralize or dismantle the virus to prevent the progression of the disease.”
The antibodies are given through an IV infusion, which takes an hour and is provided at an infusion site where the patient is monitored, Rattay said. The infusion is most effective when given within 72 hours of symptoms showing, she said, and there are minimal side effects.
The availability of vaccines and treatments, however, doesn't mean people can stop taking precautions against the virus, officials said. Rollout of the vaccine to the general public is expected to take several months, said Beebe's Cowan, who urges everyone to continue practicing the social restrictions that have been in place since March.
“As excited everyone is to get a vaccine, it’s still critical to wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance,” he said. “We know the vaccine prevents COVID, but what we don’t know for sure is if you can be an asymptomatic carrier.”