Their jobs, ages and backgrounds varied. But all recently gathered – 6 feet apart and wearing masks – at CHOP Specialty Care and Surgical Center in King of Prussia. They were there to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine shot.
For these healthcare workers not affiliated with larger hospital networks, it was their first opportunity to get the vaccine that would better protect them from the pandemic that has sickened more than 27.8 million people and killed 488,000 in the United States as of Feb. 17, 2021.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) began vaccinating staff in December with the two FDA-approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Both vaccines call for two doses to be fully effective. COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory for healthcare providers, but many have chosen to get vaccinated to do their part to help begin to control the pandemic.
Large employers like CHOP began offering vaccines when the first doses were available. Meanwhile, many healthcare workers who aren’t affiliated with a hospital or who work as solo practitioners were scrambling to find where they could get their vaccine. States and counties are working to help all people in Phase 1A – which, in Pennsylvania, includes healthcare workers and seniors age 65 and older – to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
Meeting the vaccine need beyond CHOP staff
In mid-January, CHOP created COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Philadelphia and King of Prussia to meet some of this unmet need. As part of the hospital’s commitment to the broader healthcare community in our region and in accordance with a Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) order, CHOP began designating 10% of each vaccine allotment received from the state to support the vaccination of eligible non-CHOP healthcare personnel.
Muniya Khanna, PhD, 45, a clinical psychologist who treats patients with OCD and anxiety disorders, has been seeing patients virtually since November. After Khanna is fully vaccinated, she hopes to begin offering more in-person counseling.
“Kids, in particular, have a lot more difficulty communicating and remaining connected to conversations online – particularly children with OCD,” said Khanna, who emigrated to the U.S. from India as a child. “By getting the vaccine, I hope to be able to provide in-person counseling again for my patients – particularly those in crisis.”
Khanna, who also works on research trials with clinicians at CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, said she’s been impressed with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out from the two organizations. “It’s been very organized and I feel better knowing I got my vaccine at CHOP.”
Protecting themselves, to better support others
Being able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was a huge relief for Jen Brill, 43, a speech therapist in Springfield, who works with developmentally delayed elementary school students – many of whom have difficulty following COVID-19 masking and social-distancing rules.
“Many of the children I work with can’t tolerate wearing a mask for long periods of time, and some simply don’t understand why they should,” Brill said. “Many of these students are non-verbal and still learning how to properly communicate. By getting the vaccine, I feel safer providing the type of personalized care my students need.”
Tom Laws, 41, of Philadelphia, says he got the COVID-19 vaccine because he’s been worried about the vulnerable families that he interacts with at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. “These folks are already dealing with so much; and their children are so medically fragile,” Laws said. “Of course, I’m still wearing my mask, washing my hands and physical distancing. No one wants to pass along this virus."
One of the youngest to receive the vaccine at a recent event was Kevin Houtmann, 22, who works at a medical diagnostic facility that handles COVID-19 samples.
“I’m so glad this vaccine clinic exists,” Houtmann said. His family is hoping to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip for his mom’s 60th birthday in late Spring. “After the past year we’ve all had, I’m really hoping we can make this dream trip come true for my mom.”
Expanding vaccination efforts
CHOP’s successful expansion of COVID-19 vaccination effort beyond its staff has been lauded by leaders as another step forward in our collective battle against COVID-19.
“These vaccines give all healthcare workers the opportunity to play offense against COVID-19, instead of defense, as we have for the past year,” said Ron Keren, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer. “CHOP is proud to be part of this important vaccination effort.”
CHOP has also recently partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and various Philadelphia school networks to develop a School Personnel COVID-19 Vaccine Administration Program. Starting Feb. 22, CHOP began offering COVID-19 vaccines to employees from Philadelphia schools and early childhood programs.
Learn more about CHOP's COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the Vaccine Education Center’s COVID-19 Vaccine webpage or consult your state's vaccine website.