Advocate Aurora Health Preparing To Vaccinate Staff Against COVID-19 Next Week

Chief Medical Officer Says Vaccine Protects Against Sickness, But Not Acquisition Of The Virus

Two hands with blue gloves hold a syringe of fluid being tested as the COVID-19 vaccine
In this July 27, 2020, file photo, nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y. Moderna Inc. says it will ask U.S. and European regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection. AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File

Advocate Aurora Health is preparing to vaccinate its employees most at risk of contracting COVID-19 next week and health system leaders say people who want the vaccine could have it by June.

A coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech is being reviewed for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday.

Dr. Robert Citronberg, Advocate Aurora’s executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention, called the meeting and pending decision an “incredible landmark.”

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On Wednesday 3,055 people in the United States died from complications of COVID-19, making it one of the deadliest days in American history. A total of 289,531 people have died from the virus, according to the New York Times.

“Without a vaccine, we would expect another two to three years of this pandemic, and the cost would be hundreds of thousands of lives and continued economic despair,” Citronberg said. “We have a ticket out, and it is going to be so important for everyone in the community who needs a vaccination to get vaccinated.”

Advocate Aurora’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Stuck cautioned that even after the vaccine, people still need to wear a mask until a herd immunity is achieved. The vaccine prevents sickness, but does not prevent acquisition of the virus, so people could still pass coronavirus to other people, Stuck said.

Advocate Aurora has 16 hospitals in Wisconsin and locations in Illinois. It is the largest health care provider in Eastern Wisconsin. Executives with the Milwaukee-based system spoke to media via Zoom on Thursday.

System leaders said they are working with health departments in Wisconsin and Illinois to determine how many vaccines they will receive. The plan is to vaccinate health care providers who work in the emergency departments, intensive care units and COVID-19 units first.

“Immunization is an urgency, not an emergency,” Citronberg said.

Advocate Aurora is not mandating employees be vaccinated at this time, but anticipates the majority of employees will opt for vaccination.

“How do we get out of this pandemic? Without mass vaccination, we don’t,” Citronberg said. “If we can get everyone by the end of June, the second half of next year looks very promising. But that’s entirely dependent on successful mass vaccination.”

The number of COVID-19 cases have been trending downward. But Stuck warned the numbers are likely to spike again with people getting sick following Thanksgiving.

In Wisconsin, Advocate Aurora has 385 COVID-19 patients; 118 of them are in Milwaukee at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Stuck said.

“Just like Thanksgiving, we are asking people not to gather for the holidays,” Stuck said. “We are concerned about the next few days and weeks, especially around Christmas, Kwanza and New Years, and we are imploring the public to celebrate virtually. We know it is the only way to stem this tide.”