(Video courtesy of WMAR-TV)
Five University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) front-line healthcare workers — two physicians on the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), a nurse, a respiratory therapist, and an environmental service worker — received COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines Dec. 14 as UMMS begins the process of vaccinating staff members throughout the organization. UMMS received one tray of 975 vaccine doses and is in the process of allocating doses across the system, with additional vaccine delivery expected later this week.
“For many months, we have been looking forward to the day when vaccines would be available to protect our health care workers and very soon for the community at large,” said Mohan Suntha, MD, MBA, president and CEO of UMMS. “As we begin vaccinations, and finally begin the process of ending this pandemic, I’m thankful to our UMMS and UM School of Medicine colleagues who have been working tirelessly to care for our community and lead in the development of innovative treatments and vaccines.”
The first UMMS employee to receive the vaccine was Shawn Hendricks, MSN, RN, nursing director of medicine, cardiac services, and the tele-sitter program at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), the system's flagship academic medical center in downtown Baltimore. Hendricks oversees multiple units that care for COVID patients, including the new Modular Care Unit. A Baltimore City native who lives in Baltimore County, Hendricks, who was vaccinated at 1 p.m., said she was proud to be the first person vaccinated at UMMS and encourages others to do the same. Hendricks was a student nurse at UMMC and has worked at the hospital for more than two decades.
“I am a nurse on the front lines of caring for COVID patients and I believe in the science behind the vaccine,” Hendricks said. “I want my family and I to be safe from getting COVID. Unless people start to get vaccinated, I think this pandemic will last longer, and get worse.”
“I've seen enough death and dying. It’s already hit my family, and I don’t want it to hit my household,” she added, noting that her mother spent two months recovering from COVID and her brother and brother-in-law also were diagnosed with the infection.
“COVID has caused so much devastation in our communities, especially with minority populations and people of color, and death in staggering numbers, that I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Hendricks said. “We need to get COVID under control, so we can return to some type of normalcy. I believe that we should all get vaccinated and continue our social distancing and masking to assist in us getting back to where we were before COVID.”
UMMS received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine today and will distribute to staff according to the Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine — developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — as well as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice’s Ethical Principles for Allocating Initial Supplies of COVID-19 Vaccine. These guidelines will ensure that the vaccine is allocated ethically across our populations of health care professionals, students, faculty and other essential workers, while still in limited supply.
Other staff who received the COVID-19 vaccine Monday include:
Michael Winters, MD, MBA, FACEP, FAAEM, professor vice chair for clinical and administrative affairs, Department of Emergency Medicine, UMSOM, who works as a physician in UMMC’s Adult Emergency Department. Winters also serves as the co-lead of the Emergency Department Operations Branch of UMMS’ COVID Incident Command and has provided care for COVID patients during his clinical shifts.
“I have cared for asymptomatic COVID patients who have had a positive result, those with mild to moderate symptoms that require supplemental oxygen and hospitalization, and critically ill COVID patients who have required resuscitation, intubation, and mechanical ventilation,” Winters said. “This represents a historical moment in our fight against COVID.
“As emergency providers, we have stood courageously on the front lines and cared for COVID patients seeking help in our emergency departments. By being one of the first providers to be vaccinated I feel this will convey an important message to my emergency medicine colleagues on the importance of this moment. Moving forward with vaccinations signals that the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to grow brighter by the day.”
Sharon Henry, MD, is a professor of surgery at UMSOM and director of the Division of Wound Healing and Metabolism at UMMC’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. A Shock Trauma physician for 23 years, Henry also has cared for COVID patients. “I'm proud to be among the first clinical front-line health care workers for UMMS to be vaccinated and strongly believe that this means we are one step closer to returning to normalcy.”
In her role as a respiratory therapist at the UMMC Downtown Campus, Daisy Solares, RRT, has taken care of patients with injuries from relatively minor to some of the most severe and has been trained to provide care in nine of the intensive care units across the hospital, spanning from medical to trauma. A Baltimore resident, Solares has been a respiratory therapist at UMMC since July 2014 and has provided care for COVID patients.
“It means a great deal to me to be among the first clinical front-line health care professionals to be vaccinated for the medical system in honor of my father,” said Solares, whose father, Juan Gabriel Solares, died last spring due to COVID. “I have been a strong advocate for staying safe throughout this pandemic since the beginning. When I went through all the emotions with losing my father and now going back into work, my feelings are even stronger. I hope the first wave of volunteers can help our community understand how important everyone’s safety is throughout this pandemic.”
Baltimore resident William Thomas is a 25-year employee working in environmental services at the UMMC Midtown Campus. As for being among the first to receive the vaccine, Thomas said, “It's a blessing. I just wish all of us could take it right now.” Thomas also offered this advice for his colleagues: “We're in a COVID environment; it's best for all of us to take the vaccine as soon as we can. If anyone is scared about taking it, I say, it's better to get the vaccine than to get COVID.”
UMMS will continue to vaccinate front-line health care workers across the organization as vaccine supply becomes available.