With COVID-19 vaccines, light at the end of the tunnel is brighter, Bon Secours exec says

On Dec. 14, Bon Secours Mercy Health was among U.S. health systems to receive the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Cincinnati-based organization — which has 50 hospitals and 60,000 employees in seven states and Ireland — had prepared for this day since September, Chief Clinical Officer Wael Haidar, MD, said in an interview with Becker's. Preparation included acquiring freezers for vaccines, creating a playbook for different Bon Secours Mercy Health market and conducting dry runs of shot distributions to workers.

In Ohio, the health system's Mercy Health - St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo and Mercy Health - Springfield Regional Medical Center have been selected as pre-positioned sites. The health system's Richmond, Va., market received the vaccine Dec. 14, and its Toledo and Springfield facilities are expected to receive theirs Dec. 15. Dr. Haidar said the health system continues to work with state and local authorities based on each state's distribution plans, and other states Bon Secours Mercy Health operates in are expected to distribute vaccines to healthcare workers this week. Additionally, Bon Secours Mercy Health said it is working in close coordination with CVS and Walgreens to distribute the vaccine to patients in its 14 skilled nursing and long-term acute care facilities later this week.  

"It is really momentous from where we are in terms of fighting this disease," Dr. Haidar said. "We've been longing to get here, and now we're here."

Dr. Haidar said the health system hopes to learn more in the next few days about how well the vaccines have been received by healthcare workers.  

An unknown is duration of side effects from the shots, Dr. Haidar said. To help prevent many workers from feeling side effects at the same time, the health system is staggering their vaccine dates, he said.

The health system is also considering how to manage messaging about vaccines in  seven states, where shots may be allocated differently. 

"What if one state decides to give a facility X number of vaccines, then another state doesn't give enough?" said Dr. Haidar. "How do you manage that messaging and make sure you don't leave workers to question why they didn't get it? [The messaging] has to adapt to the local strategy, and it has to adapt to the differences in the demographics and the differences in populations."

As far as communicating about vaccines to people in communities served by Bon Secours Mercy Health, the health system is working with the Catholic Health Association of the United States to see if there is a program that U.S. Catholic ministries want to focus on together, Dr. Haidar said. He said there are also vaccine committees in every Bon Secours Mercy Health market that are thinking more of their specific needs, their specific vulnerable populations and forming those plans. 

"We all know, we all see the numbers are going up. We have still an active disease. The effects of the vaccine probably aren't going to be felt for several weeks to go," he told Becker's. "But it is truly the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. It's a great place to be, and I think it is remarkable to be at this stage where we are to enable us to finally have the weapon, have the tools to get over the hump and conquer the pandemic." 


More articles on workforce:

COVID-19 vaccine distribution: How 4 systems are deciding who gets first shots
UPMC adds hundreds of nurses, bed capacity amid COVID-19 surge
Keeping transport, environmental services staff safe: 14 COVID-19 strategies from Northwell Health

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