Penn State Health received its first doses of the COVID-19 at its Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center Thursday afternoon. The 975 doses of the vaccine will be kept in cold storage, and staff inoculation will begin soon.
Penn State Health has developed plans to distribute the vaccine according to the three-phase DOH and CDC recommended guidance, with employees being prioritized the first offer.
The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were developed using a technology called messenger RNA, or mRNA. Traditionally, many vaccines — including the seasonal flu shots — have included a weakened or inactivated virus to trigger an immune response in our bodies.
An mRNA vaccine instead introduces genetic material that causes our cells to create a protein — in this case COVID’s spike protein, explains Dr. Thomas Ma, chair of the Department of Medicine at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
“This type of vaccine — mRNA — has been studied before,” said Dr. Catharine Paules, an infectious diseases physician at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “But this will be the first time they’ve been authorized for use broadly in the United States.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines will be administered into the upper arm, just like flu shots. But unlike the seasonal influenza vaccine, two doses are required for the COVID vaccine.
“There’s likely a limited response after just one dose,” Paules said. “However, without that second dose, you won’t have as much of an immune response and you may not be fully protected against illness.”
Pfizer’s vaccines should be administered in two doses 21 days apart, while Moderna’s will be given 28 days apart.
“The vaccine is a scarce resource right now,” Paules said. “So people should be sure that when they request the first dose, they’ll be able to follow through with the second.” The FDA is drafting guidelines for what to do if a patient has to delay the second dose.