Farley says vaccines are “turning point”

Dr Thomas Farley_03
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said, if current trends hold, the city will run out of hospital space by Dec. 31.
PHOTO: Metro File

Philadelphia’s top health official said he believes this week is “a turning point” in the coronavirus pandemic, as city hospitals prepare to begin inoculating staff.

Thousands of doses of the Pfizer vaccine are arriving in the city, and it’s expected that medical centers will administer Philadelphia’s first doses Wednesday.

“Overall, this is really a stunning achievement that scientists developed two vaccines so quickly, and that they’ve proven to be safe and effective,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing.

A total of 13,650 doses are being shipped to Philadelphia this week, and Farley said officials are anticipating 27,600 of the Moderna vaccine next week, if federal regulators authorize it in the coming days.

It’s not clear how much of the Pfizer vaccine will come next week, Farley said, though officials hope it will be a larger shipment.

The first vaccines reached the suburbs Tuesday, with Doylestown Hospital in Bucks County receiving two trays, which are roughly the size of pizza boxes and contain 975 vials each.

As of Tuesday afternoon, nine hospitals in Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia have received vaccines. State officials said Pfizer is sending 97,500 doses directly to 87 medical centers across the commonwealth.

Healthcare workers who routinely come into contact with the virus will be the first to be vaccinated, along with nursing home staff and residents.

Every nursing home in Philadelphia has signed an agreement with CVS or Walgreens to administer the vaccine. Farley said those facilities should start recieving doses next week.

In the second phase, critical infrastructure workers, such as police officers and firefighters, will be inoculated.

Farley said he could not put a timeline on when the general public will have access to the vaccine. It will be determined by how quickly the manufacturers churn out doses, he said.

Several other companies are conducting clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccines, and those products could be up for approval in the early months of next year, Farley said.

Health experts, including Farley and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, have continued to stress that not enough people will be able to get vaccinated to have an effect on the pandemic’s recent surge.

Philadelphia may reach 100 virus-related deaths a week before the end of the month, Farley said, and the city recorded 1,223 new COVID-19 cases and six fatalities Tuesday.

The city has fared better than Pennsylvania as a whole, which is seeing its highest levels of hospitalizations.

Farley credited the Kenney administration’s “Safer at Home” restrictions with blunting the Thanksgiving surge. The regulations forced gyms, restaurants and other venues to close and prohibited indoor dining.

Between Nov. 20, when the city restrictions went into effect, and Dec. 12, when Gov. Tom Wolf imposed similar measures statewide, cases in Philadelphia increased 7%, while cases in the rest of the state shot up 66%.

There have been other positive signs, officials said. Last week, the city averaged 784 cases a day and a positive test rate of 10.8%, down from 1,028 cases and 13% the week prior.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Philadelphia stand at 920, a number Farley said appears to be stabilizing.

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