Since the beginning of fall, the amount of patients that Stoughton Health has treated for COVID-19 has doubled.
But while healthcare providers on the frontlines continue to dedicate their days to keeping people alive, the pandemic has an end in sight with two anticipated vaccines. Both immunizations come from pharmaceutical giants Moderna and Pfizer respectively, as they’ve demonstrated around a 95% efficacy rate in clinical trials, according to various news outlets.
Anna Robb, Stoughton Health nurse, told the Hub with the Food and Drug Administration granting emergency use authorizations, or EUAs, to both vaccines the last couple of weeks, the hope is that small numbers of patients will start receiving them by the end of the year. The FDA passes EUAs during public health emergencies when there is strong evidence to suggest patients might benefit from a new treatment or inoculation.
Robb, who works for the hospital’s emergency and infection prevention departments, said staff have been charting the course for distributing the vaccines. There’s also a treatment that’s been promising for a select number of COVID-19 patients, which uses synthetic antibodies to target the virus.
And even though the hospital has had to convert more units to COVID-19 wings, personal protective equipment — masks, gowns, shoe covers, eye gear — remain in steady supply, she said. The doubling in patients, Robb said, has thankfully not resulted in staff needing to take dire measures, like deciding who lives and who dies.
That’s all in contrast to the first few months of the pandemic, Robb said, when personal protective equipment availability faltered at the national level, COVID-19 treatments involved mere breathing support and experts didn’t know much about how the illness impacts the body.
When the time comes to vaccinate the public, the effort will occur with a phased approach, she said.
Hospital staff across the nation will first inoculate adults 65 and older with high risk medical conditions, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document.
Next, vaccines will go to essential workers from the education, food, utilities, police, transportation and firefighting sectors. After that, the document states, healthcare workers will receive their vaccines.
“The plan is to be able to provide (community) vaccines once our frontline staff are immunized,” Robb said.
She advised, however, that the process for getting the public vaccinated is going to take months, with the effort even spanning into the summer.
In the meantime, hospital staff continue to use all means necessary to treat COVID-19 patients and keep them alive if they take a turn for the worst case scenario.
Providers gown up with gloves, eye protection, shoe covers and a respirator mask when taking care of a COVID-19 patient, meaning they are covered head to toe, she said. Patients are housed inside negative pressure rooms and put on ventilators if they are unable to breathe on their own, but that is a last ditch effort.
Ventilators provide oxygen, but also increase air pressure in lungs, and according to an April 8 Associated Press story, around 80 percent of coronavirus patients put on ventilators die. So the goal, Robb said, is to continue to avoid using them as much as possible.
An alternative to that is hi-flow oxygen, she said, a machine that uses a nasal prong to provide a large amount of oxygen to the patient contained within a mask.
For a select number of COVID-19 patients, there is a synthetic antibody treatment available, she said, called Bamlanivimab. The FDA issued an EUA for the drug in early November, permitting the treatment for patients aged 12 and older who “are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization,” according to an article at fda.gov.
But Robb said there’s still so much scientists and providers don’t know about how COVID-19 impacts the body.
Research has shown, however, that the virus impacts the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and even the blood vessels. And early studies have depicted that impact lasting long after recovery, with some patients suffering organ damage and other complications, likely stemming from an extreme immune response.
So even though people “feel the light at the end of the tunnel,” Robb said everyone has a responsibility to ensure they stay healthy. She advised mask wearing, social distancing and staying home when able.
“We are definitely not out of the woods yet,” Robb said. “We have seen that COVID-19 is extremely deadly. We have lost life. Take the right steps to prevent further spread.”