PITTSBURGH — Medical system officials were encouraged by changes in COVID-19 rollout guidelines announced Tuesday morning by the federal government.
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be released immediately, it was announced, bridging the plans of the outgoing and incoming administrations. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) officials made note of the changes during a late-morning online news conference.
Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer, Dr. David Nace, UPMC chief medical officer, and Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chief of emergency medicine offered progress reports and took questions on a late-morning video conference.
“We are frankly, thrilled and very supportive to hear of the decision to federal level to see vaccines distribution accelerated,” Minnier said. “We believe we have the systems and processes in place to get that vaccine in the right patients and the right people in our community.”
Minnier said there would be more to be learned as the announcement was made shortly before the video conference. Nace acknowledged the partnerships needed to deliver vaccines when available.
“This is the D-Day of vaccination,” Nace added. “We are trying to get hundreds of millions of people vaccinated. It is going to take smarts and cooperation.”
Meantime, monoclonal antibody treatment was being made available to sick patients but before they are sick enough to need hospital care. The treatment mimics the immune system’s ability to fight off the effects of a virus.
“These medications are (intravenous) infusions produced by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, and are currently available under an emergency use authorization,” Yealy said. “They are used in non-hospitalized people who are vulnerable to complications of COVID-19 illness and infections.”
Yealy said a highly coordinated system was distributing the antibody treatment to qualified treatments. It included delivery of infusions to patients and use of safe infusion centers. UPMC was also continuing research into its own antibody treatment, which Yealy said could be a model for treatment of future infection.
Meantime, Yealy said the death rate of COVID-19 patients age 70 or older on breathing machines continued to be at about 75%. The number was in line with numbers reported by colleagues from around the country and Yealy said they have done everything they can to avoid those circumstances. He stressed that proportionately fewer patients were now in need of breathing machines.
Yealy added that COVID-19 outcomes have improved since spring, thanks in part to better procedures and use of medications which help change the immune response. But the deadly disease was still a risk especially for seniors and people with underlying conditions.
“While we have the vaccine, it is in limited supply,” Yearly said. “We are currently targeting health care workers and those in skilled care facilities. Our public health and governmental partners are still working through directions and plans for use of vaccines in the general public.”
Facial masks, hand washing, avoidance of congregations outside of immediate family and physical distancing were recommended for mitigation.
A reporter asked whether system employees working at home, purportedly not at the level of risk of workers in direct patient care, were being immunized. Minnier replied that the system was following federal and state guidelines. Nace noted that immunizing employees working at home maximized the health system’s efficiency.