Published On: Wed, Dec 30th, 2020

‘Frontline’ healthcare workers in Boca, Boynton get first shot at COVID vaccine

By Dale King

Tiny bottles filled with a liquid that promises to alleviate the life-threatening symptoms of a deadly disease that’s grown into a worldwide pandemic in barely a year have finally arrived in South Florida.

And while the vaccine has already been distributed at some hospitals in various parts of the nation, Baptist Health South Florida – which a few years ago merged with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Bethesda Hospital East and Bethesda Hospital West – wanted the community to know that the disease-stomping fluid has come to town.

Hospital officials addressed a group of media summoned Monday morning to the Dawson Theatre, the education center at Boca Regional Hospital at 800 Meadows Road, to let them know about the planned distribution of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine among its employees and physicians.  No schedule was specifically announced that morning for the use of the vaccine in the community.

The atmosphere in the hospital hall was certainly more upbeat Monday than at various places during the many dark days of COVID-19 fear, when a cure for the raging ailment was still a hope, even a whim. When the coronavirus began to strike people in the tri-county area of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties – and take many of their lives – the dread increased.

But kind and gentle words were spoken at the media conference. “We have discharged more than 9,000 people who had been infected with coronavirus,” said Dr. Samer Fahmy, chief medical officer at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “There has been plenty of heartbreak along the way, plenty of losses. We hope this is a step in the right direction as we move toward the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“There is certainly a little bit of elation, seeing the vaccine roll out to the frontline workers,” said Kevin Taylor, director of emergency medicine at Bethesda Hospital East in Boynton Beach.

He said the workers who dealt directly with COVID-19 patients “have taken the brunt of the stress, dealing with this unprecedented pandemic over the past year.” 

By giving frontline workers first dibs on the anti-virus, he said, “We hope to treat patients in a safer manner.”

Dr. Fahmy looked at the situation from the point of view of someone “who has been on the frontline — and speaks for those on the frontline. This is the day we have been waiting for since March. We didn’t anticipate that it would happen so soon.”

Dr. Madeline Camejo, chief pharmacy officer for Baptist Health South, spoke calmly and frankly through her mask.  She was part of the team that opened the boxes containing life-saving fluid on Monday morning and allowed some of that emotion to show through.

“I think this is a great day for Palm Beach County and Baptist Health South Florida,” she said. “The vaccine is really a lifesaver,” and was accepted with relief and a no small measure of gratitude by those on the healthcare team.

Offering his feelings on the efficacy of the drug and encouraging folks to accept it, Dr. Fahmy said: “It is one of the most important things you can do right now for yourself and your community. We are confident in the science behind it. The testing that’s gone on is extensive and it seems like it’s safe and effective.”

Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director for Palm Beach County, said earlier in December that 18,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be distributed at area hospitals over the next four weeks and distributed more widely to others involved in the healthcare and emergency medicine field.

“We’ll be working those four weeks to roll this out to fire rescue, EMS, paramedics, our county health department frontline and healthcare workers. Obviously, everyone cannot get the vaccine at the same time, so please be patient.”

She said a specific distribution plan is in place for Palm Beach County. 

PBC, she noted, “is specifically being given the Moderna vaccine. It is much easier to handle, and it also has a very good efficacy, so we are very happy to have the Moderna. They are going to try to keep us with that same brand so that it doesn’t become confusing to people,” Alonso said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed an executive order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to be given to citizens who are 65 years of age as hospitals finish vaccinating frontline doctors, nurses and health care workers.

“We want to work to get this out to our senior population,” DeSantis said. “We think that’s very, very important for reducing mortality, reducing the number of people who need to be hospitalized.”

Hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 doses created by both Moderna and Pfizer are arriving in Florida. 

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