By JOHN T. WARD
A nationwide rollout of America’s first COVID-19 vaccine is expected to begin Tuesday with inoculations of frontline healthcare workers.
Among them will be employees of Hackensack Meridian Health, the parent company of Red Bank’s Riverview Medical Center, according to chief executive Robert Garrett.
“I truly believe this is going to be the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic,” Garrett said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation‘ Sunday.
The federal Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Friday night. Anticipating a shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, University Hospital in Newark plans to inoculate the first healthcare workers in New Jersey Tuesday morning at an event attended by Governor Phil Murphy.
The state is anticipating delivery of 76,000 doses of the vaccine in the first round. And while its arrival is “good news,” Murphy told ABC’s “This Week” that with case numbers rising rapidly, “the next number of weeks are going to be hell, I fear, so we’re begging with people to please, please, please don’t let your guard down, even when you’re in private settings.”
Garrett said Hackensack Meridian’s shots would first be given to doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who interact directly with patients, as well as support staff, such as patient transporters.
“Based on the supply, we hopefully will be able to vaccinate all of them over the next three-to-four weeks,” he said.
Garrett said the 14-hospital network, the state’s largest, has had a dedicated team planning for the vaccine for months, acquiring ultra-cold freezers for storing the vaccine and working out a distribution plan for its hospitals.
He said the effort was being aided by volunteer physicians, retired nurses and medical and nursing students offering to help administer vaccinations.
Hackensack Meridian also owns the 180-bed former Chapin Hill longterm care facility on Chapin Avenue in Red Bank. Garrett said the CVS drugstore chain would begin vaccinating longterm care patients in those facilities next Monday, December 21.
The network had about 900 COVID-19 patients in its beds Sunday, compared to nearly 3,000 at the peak in April and a summer low of about 50, Garrett said.
Now, “we see our ICU capacity getting stretched,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge now is staffing,” Garrett said. “During the first surge, we were able to source staff from literally around the nation, but as you’ve been reporting, there’s a surge all over the country now, so it’s much harder to supplement our regular staff with additional staff.”
Over the weekend, the state health department reported 728 new COVID-19 positive cases in Monmouth County, including 25 in Red Bank. Four additional deaths were reported countywide, for a total 825 since the start of the pandemic in March.
• In their daily update Wednesday, Monmouth County officials reported these cumulative cases by town:
|December 11||December 12|
|Spring Lake Hts||137||140|
|West Long Branch||548||557|
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