Dr. Robert Grossberg ‘88 has barely seen his mother in the past nine months due to concerns about transmitting COVID-19. However, receiving the new vaccine gives him hope that he can reunite with his mother and other family members, he said. “It’ll be nice to feel like maybe I could give her a hug,” he said. Healthcare professionals in the school’s community, such as Grossberg, are among the first to receive vaccinations in New York.
On December 18, the first day the vaccine was available to him, Dr. Anthony Aizer P’25 P’26, who works at the New York University Medical Center, received it from one of the hospital sites in Brooklyn.
The hospital prioritized the distribution of the vaccine to healthcare workers based on an individual’s risk of contracting the virus or spreading the virus to others, Aizer said. “I see many patients every day, in the range of 10 to 50 in a day, which means that not only are they exposed to me, but I’m exposed to them,” he said. “So if I can reduce the risks of transmission of COVID, to my patients or to myself, I want to do that.”
Like Aizer, Dr. Sudheer Jain P’27 P’29 received a vaccine from the Bellevue Hospital where he works. Jain’s hospital also distributed vaccines based on the highest risk of contracting COVID, allowing those who work in the Emergency Room and ICU to receive doses first, he said.
Jain was glad to receive the vaccine, he said. “I was physically here back in March and April during the worst times, and it’s hard to describe the scenes you’d see,” he said. “Excitement came from the fact that there was finally something working in our favor.”
Dr. Peter Angevine P’24 P’26, who works and received the vaccine at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, felt lucky to be in the first group of people being vaccinated, he said. “[New York Presbyterian] was a hospital that was one of the hardest hit in Manhattan,” he said. “A lot of people were very excited and proud to be part of the first group to get the vaccine.”
Aizer and Avengine received the vaccine created by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, which utilizes mRNA to create the virus’s spike protein on cells and triggers an immune response in the body. Jain received the vaccine created by the Moderna Biotechnology company. Both vaccines require two doses to be administered either 21 or 28 days apart according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Monica Prasad Hayes P’25 P’27, who was also vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, said the technology does not use any part of the virus, which ensures that recipients of the vaccine will not contract COVID, she said. “At the same time, because this is a new technology that is first in human use, that has caused a little trepidation for people who are contemplating getting the vaccine.”
Dr. Eugene Tolunsky P’22, who received the Moderna vaccine, said that the new vaccine technology is trustworthy given the testing that occurred before its release, he said. “It’s a novel idea, it’s a novel approach, but it was adequately tested,” he said. “The data for both trials is solid, and I really do not think that this vaccine was pushed through or not adequately evaluated.”
Dr. Hooman Azmi P’22 P’23, who received the Pfizer vaccine, said the mRNA technology could be used to treat cancer, given the research that has been put into using the technology for this vaccine. “The silver lining for the coronavirus is that we may end up getting some very important anti-cancer vaccines from these efforts.”
Dr. Rabia de Latour P’35 read the published data and papers closely before receiving the Pfizer vaccine, she said. “Anyone who has concerns about [the vaccine] should do the same, or ask someone to interpret it for them,” she said. “It’s very important to look at the science and trust the science.”
Dr. Ed Lin’s P’27 found the process of receiving the vaccine to be relatively straightforward, he said. “Our health system was actually one of the first providers to start giving the vaccine to frontline workers,” he said. “We quickly received emails, giving us the ability to make an appointment within the hospital to get the vaccine.”
On the other hand, since Dr. Doug Ewing P’27 ‘87 was a part of a clinical trial, receiving the vaccine was more complicated. During a three hour session he had a physical examination, answered many questions, and had vials of blood and a nasal swab taken, he said. “It was a pretty involved process,” he said. “Then finally, they gave me the vaccine after several hours there and it was just a regular shot in the arm.”
Moreover, it is possible that Ewing was given a placebo during the trial, instead of the vaccine, he said. “They’re going to be telling us this week which group we fell into and the people who got the placebo will be offered the actual vaccine within the next couple weeks,” he said.
After receiving the actual vaccine, Ewing will continue to follow COVID protocols, he said. “I’ll have a little bit more peace of mind I think, but I think it’s still important to maintain those public health measures.”
Similarly, de Latour will also maintain the same routines she established before receiving the vaccine, but she feels safer in terms of protecting her family, she said. “It’s hard to deal with the emotional burden as a physician knowing that you could get a family member sick,” she said. “I think once fully vaccinated I’ll feel better knowing there is a very high likelihood that I’m protected from this and that I can no longer pose that risk to them.”
Azmi’s son, Mazyar Azmi (11), said he trusted his father would be safe when working in the hospital before he was vaccinated because of the excellent personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilation at the hospital, he said. “I always knew he was going to be fine working in the hospital because of the provided PPE, but now we’re even more confident because of the growing number of vaccinated employees.”
Tolunsky is hopeful that a sense of normalcy will return as more people receive the vaccine. “I think that this is our path forward out of this pandemic,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that this virus is not going to disappear on its own and this is really the way we can try to get it over and behind us.”