Infectious Disease

The hospital physician says the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine is a glimmer of hope.

December 22, 2020

3 min read

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Source:
Healio interview

Disclosure:
Patel does not report any relevant financial information.

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Almost 10 months after the initial diagnosis of COVID-19 at the Mount Sinai Health System, the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech arrived there on December 15th.

The arrival of the vaccine caused a whirlwind of emotions, Gopi Patel, MD, Health Systems Medical Director for Antimicrobial Treatment and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases told Healio Primary Care.

“I cried several times that day,” she said. “But I was also full of joy and very proud.”

Patel said she hasn’t had a day since February without answering a colleague’s email, treating patients in the hospital, or allaying a patient or colleague’s fears. As of April, the health system had around 800 patients with COVID-19, which is roughly ten times its normal intensive care capacity. Despite the long days and the considerable devastation around her, she knew that a “light” was coming.

“I trusted that scientists would not misunderstand the vaccine. I also knew I would be part of the effort to educate others about the vaccine, ”said Patel.

Earlier this year, she participated in an open-label clinical trial involving Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. The first vaccine Patel received was a placebo; Now she’s going to get the real vaccine too.

In an interview, Patel discussed the mental and emotional state of the staff at Mount Sinai since the vaccine arrived, strategies to combat vaccine reluctance, and much more.

Q: What did you think when you found out that a COVID-19 vaccine would finally be Come available for you and your colleagues ?

A: I cried when I found out I had originally been given a placebo and was going to get the actual vaccine. I cried when my team was together at 7:30 am. I cried when one of our infectious disease pharmacists shared a selfie in front of the box of vaccines.

I have to go home and tell my husband and daughter that maybe next year will be different. Maybe my daughter sees her grandparents in person instead of zooming in, and maybe she goes to school 5 days a week. There really is a glimmer of hope. I am so proud of what Mount Sinai Hospital and the health system have done. I’m so glad I got to attend and let science know up to this point.

Mount Sinai Health System employees unload Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on December 15.

Photo source: Mount Sinai Health System

Q: How has morale changed among your colleagues?

A: The celebration among health workers and patients after our hospital president gave the first shot to one of our nurses in the intensive care unit was amazing. It felt like there was a light. We now need to vaccinate all of our colleagues from doctors to emergency room staff to cleaning staff and our entire community.

But we still have a lot to do, especially for those patients whose treatment for chronic diseases has been interrupted. There are many places that are struggling with the same situation and that are at real risk for bad or undesirable outcomes in these patients. We need to let these patients know about the safety protocols we have put in place for them to come for chronic disease treatment.

Q: What is your health care system’s vaccination policy for employees? What are the consequences for those who choose not to receive the vaccine?e ?

A: Mount Sinai’s intent is to offer the vaccine to all of our employees over time. As of now, we are not requiring employees to receive the vaccine, so we have not chosen any consequences for those who choose not to receive it. However, if public health officials and other agencies make this mandatory, we will follow suit.

Q: What would you say to doctors who are eligible for the vaccine but don’t want to receive one?

A: I am cautiously optimistic that once doctors see someone who looks like them or is in the same position as them, they will receive the vaccine, have a moment of pride, and receive the vaccine.

Q: what will You tell your patients to be encouraged to do so get that Vaccine if it is available for you ?

A: Our biggest public health and health care goal right now is to build trust in vaccines. I would like to tell my story to the patients: I really want my daughter to go to soccer practice, play in a playground and everyone see her smile. I want to fly to California to visit my parents as I haven’t seen them in over a year due to COVID-19. Almost everyone has a very similar story. Many people have lost family members to COVID-19. I would ask those vaccine-reluctant patients, how can you not want us to get back to some semblance of normalcy? If you are offered a vaccine, you must take it.

I understand some people want to see the studies reflect their age group, race, ethnicity, illness, and other demographics. If I were a 67 year old diabetic, I would want to make sure someone like me was in the trial. I want to point out that the clinical trial organizers really pushed to include different participants.

Another thing we can do to build that confidence is give us the numbers: More than 16 million cases and over 300,000 deaths. Share these statistics with vaccine reluctant patients and ask them, “What are you waiting for?”

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