OSWEGO — The longed-for hope of a COVID-19 vaccine was realized last week as Oswego Health received its first batch of Pfizer’s vaccine and began to administer it to its health care workers on Christmas Eve.

The U.S. government doubled its $1.95 billion July 2020 order of 100 million doses of the vaccine the same day Oswego Health received theirs, bringing the total cost so far to $3.9 billion. Pfizer and BioNTech expect to fulfill the entire order of all 200 million doses by July 31, 2021. The government has the option to obtain an additional 400 million doses of the vaccine. U.S. residents will receive the vaccine for free.

As of Dec. 18, Oswego Health was gearing up for delivery of the vaccine, according to Senior Director of Communications Jamie Leszczynski.

“We have a plan in place to be able to provide vaccinations for all staff,” she said.

In an email to all Oswego Health employees, Chief Medical Officer Duane Tull, MD, wrote “these past 10 months have been a whirlwind for all of us. Personally, and professionally this virus has impacted our daily lives. The little things in life we once took for granted are the things we miss most. As an essential worker at Oswego Health, you have seen firsthand the importance of our new safety standards and protocols within our hospital and facilities. You have MASKED up, LATHERED up, and now it’s important to SLEEVE up! This vaccine will help protect you, your loved ones, and your coworkers. Please do your part and get vaccinated as this is the fastest way to safeguard our community.”

Looking beyond the vaccination solely of their employees, Oswego Health’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Backus reassured the general public their efforts will extend to the Oswego community as a whole.

“Daily, the team at Oswego Health works with its partners from the Oswego County Health Department, regional primary care offices, and community groups to ensure healthcare is available to everyone,” Backus said. “As information becomes available from the Centers for Disease Control and the New York State Dept. of Health, we will work in partnership with everyone to ensure the vaccine reaches as many people as possible.”

Med Surge registered nurse, Ashley Sidman was first to be vaccinated early Thursday morning, Dec. 24. Vice President & Chief Nursing Officer, Valerie Favata administered the first dose. Oswego County Medical Director Dr. Christina Liepke also received her vaccination Thursday morning at Oswego Hospital.

“I got vaccinated today because I feel like it’s safe and I want to help protect my patients, my family, my community and myself,” said Dr. Liepke. “We will keep everyone informed when the vaccine becomes available to the general public.”

In Oswego County, Oswego Health is initially administering the vaccine to hospital-based health care workers and first responders. As more vaccine becomes available, vaccination will expand to other groups and the general public, according to Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang.

People who are approved to receive the vaccine this week and next week include:

- Hospital-based health care workers

- Federally qualified health center-based health care workers

- Emergency Medical Services workers

- Medical examiners, coroners and funeral workers

- Residents and staff of long-term care facilities

- Residents and staff of residential settings that serve vulnerable populations.

County health officials said that many people have questions about the vaccine and the testing process.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the FDA and New York state have both reviewed the testing data and concluded that the vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Huang. “CDC and the FDA are monitoring the vaccines to look for safety issues after they are authorized and in use.”

He added, “It’s exciting to know that the vaccine is becoming available in New York state, but we must all remain diligent and continue to wear masks, wash our hands frequently, and avoid gathering with groups of people. It takes time to build up herd immunity. Before most of us become immune to the virus, we need to keep practicing our preventive measures.”

People who have questions about COVID-19 may call the Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline at 315-349-3330. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additional information is posted on the health department’s COVID-19 page at health.oswegocounty.com/covid-19.

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