Message from the CEO
by Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO

A post-pandemic world is closer than it was even a week ago. Several highly effective COVID-19 vaccines are on their way – the first, from Pfizer, is slated to arrive in Vermont in a day or so. Initial doses will be administered by hospitals and pharmacies as part of federal and state plans that prioritize front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

This week’s VAHHS Update provides more details about vaccine distribution, effectiveness and possible side effects. Our goal is to share new information as rapidly as possible to help health care workers – and Vermonters in general – stay informed and confident about getting the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them. Of course, such information changes quickly.

We must be careful not to let the vaccines lull us into a sense of false security. It will be many months before most of the American public is vaccinated. Until then, we have to remain vigilant and on guard. As tired as we are of wearing masks and social distancing, these practices must continue. As much as we want to gather with friends and family, we are better off staying apart to prevent virus spread and an overwhelmed hospital system.

Health experts suggest it could take many months into 2021 to reach a vaccination rate high enough for more normal life to resume. That makes what we do right now so important. Unfortunately, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont is currently at an all-time high with hospitalization and death rates growing.

The light is at last flickering at the end of this dark tunnel. To see more of that light later, we need to be even more careful now. To find ourselves in a state where COVID is once again rare, we need to make wise, if difficult, decisions today, like keeping holiday celebrations to our immediate family or household.

I have faith in Vermonters’ ability to continue following guidelines from the governor and Dr. Levine to keep each other safe—“masks on faces, six-foot spaces, uncrowded places”—and to cooperate with the state’s rigorous testing and contact-tracing efforts.

So far, we are fortunate not to have seen the same post-Thanksgiving bump in case volume other states are experiencing. That is no accident. It is the direct result of our teamwork, and Vermonters’ willingness to be patient and take the right steps to manage through the pandemic until it is a thing of the past.

I believe we can change our seasonal celebration habits once again. Observing holidays differently this year is the best way to ensure we can be back together next year.
In the News
‘Absolutely normal’: Covid vaccine side effects are no reason to avoid the shots, doctors say
The Washington Post

The pain in Timothy Smith’s left arm had gotten worse — “It felt like somebody had bashed my arm for a solid hour,” he said — and fatigue was starting to set in, but the 34-year-old who describes himself as “pretty all-around healthy” wasn’t panicked.

About a day earlier, on Oct. 7, Smith had gone in for his first injection in Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine trial. And because he had done research beforehand and was prepped by the clinical team, Smith said he felt equipped to handle any of the vaccine’s reported side effects, which experts say are signs that the body’s immune system is working.
Vaccine Update: Top 10 Things to Know
Southern Vermont Medical System
Trey Dobson, MD - chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

Please note: SVMC does not have the COVID-19 vaccine yet, and is not collecting names of individuals to receive the vaccine.  

#1: As Pfizer and Moderna apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, vaccine is already on its way to Vermont.

#2: Vermont expects to receive an initial supply of vaccine to cover around 6,000 people with additional vaccine arriving at least weekly.

#3: The first to be vaccinated will be frontline workers, including those working with sick patients in the hospital and acute care settings followed by other healthcare workers and first responders.

#4: Also in phase 1 are older adults living in congregant settings and people of all ages with underlying conditions that put them at high risk.

#5: The complete list of who will be vaccinated and in what priority continues to be developed at the federal, state, and local level. It is based on each group’s risk of contracting COVID-19 and their vulnerabilities.

#6: We are preparing to administer the vaccine in the same way we gave flu shots throughout October. Clinics will take place in the parking lot closest to the Monument Avenue Extension entrance. Patients will drive up and receive the vaccine through their car window. As time passes, COVID-19 vaccination will be available at your provider’s office.

#7: As with other vaccines, a small percentage of individuals may experience a brief period of fatigue, myalgia, and headache.

#8: When we take the production capabilities of each of the 10 candidate vaccines into account, it is possible that almost everyone who would like a vaccine will be vaccinated by fall of 2021. 

#9: The vaccine will end the pandemic in 2021 in some countries. COVID-19 will continue as a disease similar to the many other infectious diseases in society, disproportionately affecting the vulnerable.

#10: There are still unknowns, like how long the protection will last and how often we will need to be revaccinated. We trust that science will answer those questions, once the data is available.
Springfield Hospital, network’s bankruptcy plan approved

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (AP) - A hospital news release says the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Vermont has approved the Chapter 11 reorganization plans of Springfield Medical Care Systems and Springfield Hospital.

According to court documents, Bankruptcy Court Judge Colleen A. Brown confirmed Thursday that this will allow the two organizations to exit bankruptcy. Valley News reports that the confirmation is the final step in the reorganization that began in July 2019.

Thursday’s news release from the hospital says the two organizations will be restructured with separate boards of directors but will continue to collaborate for patient care.
'The Perfect Storm': How Vaccine Misinformation Spread To
The Mainstream

Kolina Koltai first heard about the coronavirus back in January, but not from newspapers or TV. Instead, she read about it in anti vaccination groups on Facebook.

"They were posting stories from China like, 'Hey, here's this mysterious illness,' or 'Here's this something that seems to be spreading,'" she said.

While few others in the U.S. were talking about the virus back then, people opposed to vaccination were paying attention, Koltai said, because they have long worried that a new disease would trigger the creation of a vaccine that, in their view, could be "forced onto everyone."

Koltai is well versed in these kinds of conspiracy theories about vaccines. A researcher at the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public, she has studied the growing anti-vaccination movement on Facebook since 2015.
Here’s Why Vaccinated People Still Need to Wear a Mask
The New York Times

The new Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna seem to be remarkably good at preventing serious illness. But it’s unclear how well they will curb the spread of the coronavirus.

That’s because the Pfizer and Moderna trials tracked only how many vaccinated people became sick with Covid-19. That leaves open the possibility that some vaccinated people get infected without developing symptoms, and could then silently transmit the virus — especially if they come in close contact with others or stop wearing masks.

If vaccinated people are silent spreaders of the virus, they may keep it circulating in their communities, putting unvaccinated people at risk.
The Big Jab: Vermont Preps for First Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine
Seven Days

Who goes first? Vermont officials have been pondering that question for months, when the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine still seemed like wishful thinking. Now, with packages of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine poised to reach the state in a matter of days, they're racing to put their plan into action. 

Consistent with federal guidelines, the Vermont Department of Health has identified health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term-care homes as the highest priority for vaccination.

But those nearly 60,000 individuals far outstrip the estimated 20,000 doses that Health Commissioner Mark Levine expects will arrive by New Year's Day.
Hospitals in the news
Mark your calendar