THE ISSUE

As hundreds of U.S. hospitals dispensed Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to their workers Tuesday, “a second vaccine moved to the cusp of government authorization,” The Associated Press reported. “A day after the rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus shots, the Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. ... The Moderna vaccine uses the same technology as Pfizer-BioNTech’s and showed similarly strong protection against COVID-19.”

At long last, the cavalry is coming to help health care workers in their brutal battle against COVID-19.

That’s what it felt like to us as we watched images of delivery trucks delivering boxes of the Pfizer vaccine, and of health care workers rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated as their exhausted but exhilarated colleagues looked on and cheered.

After nine months of sorrow and loss, even as COVID-19 cases spiked here and across the United States, Americans got to feel something they hadn’t in a long while: hope.

Which is not to say that the hardship is over. Too many people have lost their livelihoods and face an uncertain holiday season. (We’re relieved at least that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate won’t leave Washington, D.C., until a coronavirus relief package is passed.)

Too many people have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Our hospitals remain perilously close to running out of intensive care unit beds. Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other hospital employees continue to risk their lives caring for COVID-19 patients; more than 900 health care personnel have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pennsylvania’s death toll nears the 13,000 mark. Lancaster County’s death toll rose to 608 on Tuesday, according to the county’s numbers — an increase of eight from Monday.

More than 302,000 Americans have died because of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

So to say that the vaccine rollout is welcome is the understatement of this terrible year.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila and Jeff Hawkes reported Tuesday, Pennsylvania is expected to receive 97,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and more doses next week — plus, hopefully, the Moderna vaccine if that also wins FDA emergency use authorization, as expected.

Eighty-seven hospitals across the state began immunizing employees Monday. We hope to see Lancaster County hospital employees get vaccinated this week, too.

“The first to be immunized will be health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, first-responders and critical workers,” Brambila and Hawkes wrote.

A county health department would be useful in coordinating the messaging about the importance of these COVID-19 vaccines. In lieu of one, we hope the county commissioners are prepared to spread the word effectively.

Part of that message is this: We have science to thank for the vaccine.

A year ago, a novel coronavirus so infectious that it would shut down economies and sicken millions wasn’t on our minds. Terms like social distancing and habits like mask-wearing hadn’t yet become commonplace. And yet we already have one vaccine, with another one about to be authorized and others hopefully to follow, to combat the virus that has altered our lives so dramatically.

This is remarkably, historically fast in terms of vaccine development. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly reassured Americans that no research corners were cut.

This incredible medical achievement — spurred in part by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed — is “a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines which allow us to do things in months that took us years before,” Fauci has said.

And, as Dr. Leon Kraybill wrote in the Dec. 13 Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline Perspective section, each “vaccine was developed under rigid research protocols.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the first to “use genetic-based technology, but the science is not new,” Kraybill noted. “It does not change our DNA; rather, it utilizes how our body responds. We have found a better way to make our immune system protect us.”

Kraybill, a Lancaster geriatrician specializing in long-term and post-acute care, wrote that he regularly sees “the suffering, death and grief” that COVID-19 has brought to nursing home residents and others in the community. The pandemic’s “daily devastation,” he wrote, “does not give us the luxury of delaying immunization. My professional and personal experiences make me eager to receive the vaccination as soon as possible.”

The Pfizer vaccine has been found to be 95% effective. The Moderna vaccine has been found to be 94.1% effective.

Both vaccines will need to be administered in two shots, three to four weeks apart. It will be essential to get both doses.

If you feel achy afterward, take comfort in knowing that “such achiness is an indication that the body is working and responding appropriately,” Kraybill wrote. “A day of achiness is far better than 10 or more days of COVID-19 misery, a lifetime of prolonged effects, or loss of life.”

He noted that we may experience “brief reactions to the vaccination that will pass in less than a day.” During the vaccine trials, Kraybill noted, most of these reactions “were not severe enough to change daily activities.”

And they are infinitely more bearable than the symptoms experienced by those who get ill with COVID-19. As we’ve noted before, the disease is capricious and vicious, sparing some and devastating others.

Frankly, we’d happily accept 24 hours of achiness for the 94% to 95% chance of avoiding serious illness and its implications for those we love.

As Kraybill pointed out, it “will take months to distribute and vaccinate everyone. We cannot yet put down our masks, gather in groups or stop carefully washing our hands.”

But, he noted, “For the first time in months, there is cautious hope for the eventual control of COVID-19 infection and gradual return toward normalcy. This depends on the willingness of each of us to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

So please heed the words of the medical workers who are getting vaccinated against COVID-19. They are doing it to arm themselves for the continuing battle against the novel coronavirus, but also to set an example for the rest of us, so that we get vaccinated when our turn comes.

Sandra Lindsay was the first person in the U.S. to get the COVID-19 vaccine Monday. “It is rooted in science, I trust science, and ... what I have seen and experienced is far worse,” Lindsay, the director of critical care nursing at a Queens hospital, told The New York Times. “So it’s important that everyone pulls together to take the vaccine, not only to protect themselves but also to protect everyone they will come into contact with.”

We could not agree more. 

What to read next