Phase One of COVID-19 Relief: Southeast Georgia Health System Frontline Team Members Receive Coronavirus Vaccine

Dr. Wilson receives vaccineDecember 21, 2020 – As part of the Coastal Health District distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Georgia Department of Public Health visited the Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick and Camden campuses December 17-22, 2020, to distribute more than 450 vaccine doses to frontline team members.

“Our team members are being offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine as it becomes available on a prioritized basis, with clinical team members and physicians who care for COVID-19 patients, especially our critical care staff and our Senior Care Center staff, as our first in line,” says Michael D. Scherneck, president & CEO, Southeast Georgia Health System. “Stress levels are high as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in our community and across the nation, but the vaccine is a huge step forward in the fight against coronavirus and protecting our team members’ health while caring for patients.”

Stephen A. Chitty IV, M.D., board-certified internal medicine doctor specializing in pulmonary care and Medical Director of Critical Care for the Brunswick Campus, was one of the first team members to receive the vaccine. Chitty has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, serving the community and caring for critical patients suffering from COVID-19.

“Caring for patients and serving the community is a calling for me, but this year has certainly been a challenge. Health care providers are risking their personal health on a daily basis, and worse, putting their own family’s health at risk,” says Chitty. “It’s been a long year to say the least, but finally, we have an offensive approach to fending off COVID-19. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Although the vaccine will prevent those who receive it from contracting COVID-19, Steven F. Mosher, M.D., infectious disease specialist, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Infectious Disease, still encourages health care workers and the public alike to remain vigilant in the fight against coronavirus.

“The spread of COVID-19 is still something to guard against, even after vaccination,” says Mosher. “It is unknown whether you can still carry and transmit the virus to others after vaccination, and it will take time for everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine to get one. Until the majority of the population has been vaccinated, I encourage you to continue wearing a mask, to social distance and wash your hands frequently.”

In early December, the Health System purchased a 33.5 cubic foot, ultra-cold, negative 80 degrees Celsius freezer in preparation to store the COVID-19 vaccine. The freezer has the capacity to contain 7,500, 10-dose vials for a total of 75,000 doses.

“As nationwide distribution progresses, our pharmacy is ready to receive and store the vaccine,” says Scherneck. “Our leadership team meets daily to discuss the latest news on both COVID-19 and its vaccine, and how we can best meet the needs of our patients, team members and our community at large. When the time comes to begin vaccine distribution to the public, we’ll be ready.”

The Pfizer vaccine is distributed in two shots spaced 21 days apart. The messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine has some common side effects, including pain, swelling and redness at the location of the vaccine injection, along with chills, tiredness and headache throughout the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these side effects may begin within one to two days after receiving the vaccine and may feel life flu symptoms, but will resolve within a few days.

“I encourage everyone to ‘trust the science’ and get the vaccine as soon as it is available,” states Shirley D. Wilson, M.D., board-certified physician with Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology. “Arm soreness can be expected with any vaccine, and any other possible side effects are minor compared to actually getting COVID-19 or spreading it to loved ones. We all want an end to COVID-19, to return to our normal lives, hug our families and friends, travel and socialize. This will become possible if we get the vaccine.”