First COVID-19 vaccine administered in Delaware

Elisabeth Cote, a progressive care unit nurse at Bayhealth, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning. The first shipment of vaccinations arrived in Delaware Monday. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Elisabeth Cote rolled up her sleeve, waited for the needle to enter her arm and history was made.

Ms. Cote, a progressive care unit nurse at Bayhealth’s Kent County campus in Dover, became the first Delawarean to receive the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday morning.

“If I want these people not to catch the virus, I have to be a role model for them,” Ms. Cote said. “To think we’ve been here since March, it’s exhausting. I’m really hoping this is the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bayhealth received the state’s first 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday and began administering shots Tuesday. The remainder of the Delaware of Division of Public Health’s first order of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive Wednesday.

The order contains 8,775 more doses and will be stored at the DPH’s warehouse in Kent County. It will then be distributed to other health care systems throughout the state as front-line health care workers are slated to receive the vaccine first.

In a video posted by Gov. John Carney’s office, Ms. Cote said she has not seen her family since March due to her work with COVID-19 patients.

“I really would love to be able to go and hug my grandfather and really be able to spend more time with my family,” Ms. Cote said. “Especially being on a COVID unit, I’ve really tried to isolate myself from everyone.”

Dr. Kelly Abbrescia, Bayhealth’s Medical Director of Emergency Services, was also one of the first Delawareans to receive the vaccine. She said she has been terrified throughout the course of the pandemic of possibly transmitting the virus to her family. As a result, she has not seen her mother since March despite only living 10 miles apart.

“This vaccine is hope for us to get back to a normal life,” Dr. Abbrescia said. “This is our way out of this.”

The vaccine arrived as Delaware is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Clinical Educator Brittany Oakley, right, gives Medical Director for Emergency Services Dr. Kelly Abbrescia the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Bayhealth’s Kent County Campus COVID-19 vaccination clinic Tuesday in Dover. The hospital began giving vaccinations to fontline employees early Tuesday. (Submitted photo)

As of Monday at 6 p.m., there were 376 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 — an all-time high. The state has a seven-day rolling avera-e of 819.4 new cases per day and there have been 826 COVID-19 related deaths on record.

“You keep thinking it’s going to get better, ‘This is the Thanksgiving rush,’ and it just keeps getting worse,” Dr. Abbrescia said.

“As a leader, I have to maintain control. Working clinically, you’re trying to comfort people. Calling family and telling them this horrible news that their family member is dying, is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever done. I had to do it three times (Monday). It drains you as a human. As a doctor, it’s very difficult. I just wish the public would understand how serious it is.”

With the vaccine now in Delaware, the DPH is entering Phase 1A of its three-tier strategy for distribution. Phase 1A includes health care personnel, emergency medical services agencies, long-term care staff and long-term care residents

The breakdown of the other phases and estimated timelines via the DPH are:

• Phase 1B (Early 2021) — Those who work in high-risk and critical infrastructure industries (food processing, utilities, education, police and fire) those who work and live in congregate settings (correctional facilities and homeless shelters), as well as those with certain underlying health conditions, and are aged 65 and older are likely to receive the vaccine.

• Phase 2: (March 2021) — Those with more moderate risk for getting COVID-19 are eligible for receiving the vaccine. More details will be provided by the DPH when it gets closer to the date of distribution.

• Phase 3: (Spring/Summer 2021) — The general public can expect to receive vaccines through their primary health care providers, health centers and pharmacies as the vaccine becomes more widely available.

Children under the age of 16 are not included in the initial three phases of the vaccine’s rollout, as the FDA has not yet approved its use for individuals who fall into this category, the DPH said. The DPH warned the vaccine is not recommended if an individual currently has COVID-19 or has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.

Women who are breastfeeding, individuals who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines and those who have compromised immune systems, are advised to discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving the vaccine, according to the DPH.

While DPH officials say the state does not plan to mandate the vaccine, it is strongly encouraging that people, particularly health care workers, get vaccinated once doses become available.

The DPH is also expecting to soon receive doses of a second vaccine, made by Moderna, if the vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday.

Both the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective in trials. The DPH added the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals the coronavirus.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses administered about three weeks apart while the Moderna vaccine is expected to also require two doses.

When the vaccines are available to the general public, DPH officials said the DPH plans to remind individuals to get their second dose of the vaccine by sending letters, providing automated phone calls, text messages and by patient record cards.

A third potential vaccine is from AstraZeneca, although that is likely headed to additional global trials with no timetable determined for its availability.

“Our goal is to take advantage of every single vaccine that hits our state,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “As soon as we get it, we get it into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”

The DPH is in the process of setting up a Vaccine Call Center, which it expects to be operational soon. Individuals can email their questions concerning the vaccine to Vaccine@Delaware.gov while also visiting de.gov/covidvaccine for up-to-date information.

Bayhealth pharmacist Kidane Geda stores the COVID-19 vaccine in an ultra-cold storage unit set to -70 C. Bayhealth received Delaware’s first shipment of the vaccine on Monday and was to begin administering it today. (Submitted photo)

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.