Cindy Wamsganz becomes the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Vermont
Cindy Wamsganz rolled up her sleeve, then turned to the camera and gave a thumbs up.
The injection she received on Tuesday afternoon was over in just a few seconds. With it, Wamsganz, an emergency department nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center, became the first person in Vermont to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The first 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Vermont on Monday, just three days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency-use authorization for it.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state received another shipment of 1,950 doses Tuesday morning. By the end of the week, another 1,950 are expected to arrive at pharmacies that have contracted with the federal government to provide vaccinations to residents and staff in long-term care facilities.
The news of the first Vermont vaccination came on the day the state reported the 100th death of a Vermonter with COVID-19 since March, and the day after the U.S. surpassed 300,000 deaths.
"With these vaccinations, we mark the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic," UVM Health Network president and CEO John Brumsted said during a livestream of the first vaccination.
At the event, Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith addressed frontline health care workers, who will be in the first group to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks and months.
"We know you are tired," he said. "But I can think of no greater gift, after such a long, hard year, than the relief that will come with a vaccine."
Just 15 people were vaccinated Tuesday, including first responders from Essex Rescue and the Williston Fire Department. UVM Medical Center will ramp up access to vaccinations for its frontline workers by the end of the week, hospital president and COO Stephen Leffler said.
Courtesy of Ryan Mercer/UVM Health Network
Health care workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday afternoon
The state is expecting to receive 5,850 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each week through the end of the year. And Levine said that the state has placed a preorder for doses of the Moderna vaccine, which the FDA said Tuesday is "highly effective." That finding sets the stage for an emergency-use authorization, which could come later this week. If that happens, the state could receive more than 16,000 doses of that vaccine by the end of the year.
Though the arrival of an effective vaccine is something to celebrate, state officials on Tuesday urged Vermonters to continue social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
Vermont continues to average more than 100 new cases per day, and is still tracking dozens of outbreaks.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced several weeks apart. Pfizer-BioNTech trial data indicate that it takes about a week after receiving the second dose to achieve full protection.
Even if the state does receive the shipments it's expecting, it won't have enough supplies to reach all of the estimated 60,000 people in its highest-priority group — that is, frontline health care workers and residents and staffers of long-term care facilities — by the end of the year.
The vaccine will most likely become available to the general public starting sometime in the spring, Levine said.
"I know hearing we still have months of sacrifice is disappointing to many," Gov. Phil Scott said on Tuesday. "But I really hope that seeing that light at the end of the tunnel gives everyone hope, because I know we will get through this."