St. John’s Hospital made the news when the first Coronavirus patient in Queens was admitted to the hospital in early March. And from there, the news only got more grim as the hospital was overrun with cases throughout the Spring. Now, the news is decidedly more upbeat as a long-awaited vaccine arrived on Monday, December 14.

On Tuesday, Jerry Walsh, CEO of St. John’s and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Morrish announced the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine and that it was being administered to front line workers at the hospital. Both expressed deep appreciation for the staff who’ve labored under extremely difficult challenges. The challenges were physical and emotional and the arrival of the vaccine signifies a new day, and new hope, even as cases are currently increasing.

“We’re so thankful we have the vaccine for them and that should provide some comfort,” Walsh said.

Morrish said it is a voluntary program and staff can opt in or out. By late morning Tuesday, more than 175 staff members had already been vaccinated. Morrish, who has patient contact, said he himself had been vaccinated on Monday and feels “great” with no side effects.

Saundra Chisholm, a Nurse Practioner at St. John’s said the plan is to have all 2,300 employees vaccinated eventually and is encouraged by the numbers coming forward so soon.

Morrish said there was a “positive buzz” about the vaccine and is pleased with the reception by staff. Chisholm added that staff is following CDC guidelines and protocols to dispense the vaccine and those who receive the injection are observed by medical personnel for 15 to 30 minutes in a recovery room.

Karen Muir, Director of Pharmacy, led invited media members on a tour and showed the high powered refrigerators that are required to house the vaccine. The unit, which somewhat resembles an ATM machine, indicated a temperature set at -71 degrees. Heavy duty protective gloves are needed to place or remove vials in the extremely cold interior.

The tour continued to a “POD” (point of distribution) which was a wing with an area set aside for people to sign consent forms, a recovery area, and a room to receive the vaccine. While there, the group came upon Dr. Saira Shahab, an Infectious Disease specialist at St. John’s, about to get her shot. She expressed her excitement and was eager to allow others a view of the quick injection in her arm.  (She’s pictured on the front page).

During the peak of the pandemic, ambulances carrying COVID-19 positive patients were lined up behind the hospital’s Emergency Department’s doors, spilling into the street. And now, spilling out is a sense of relief and excitement as St. John’s Hospital becomes the first place in Rockaway to offer the long-awaited vaccine.

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