By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The first batches of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine started arriving Monday in Philadelphia and in other locations around the state, and now some of the first doses have been given. There’s lots of excitement about the vaccine but it’s still months away from reaching the general public.

Most Philadelphia hospitals are planning to start vaccinating frontline health care workers on Wednesday. They were expecting to get the first shipments Tuesday but some arrived early today.

A welcome, but surprise, delivery of 1,950 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Einstein Hospital.

“We didn’t know we were going to get it, quite frankly,” said Dr. Steven Sivak, who heads Einstein’s vaccine task force. “There have been so many unknowns in this process which has really made it challenging.”

In Pittsburgh, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center nurse was the first to get vaccinated.

“It was exciting, relieving,” nurse Charmaine Pykosh said.

First doses are being given to frontline health care workers.

“I wanted to share with my community this vaccine is the thing to do to keep us safe, healthy and to keep us alive,” said Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, an emergency department physician. “I wanted to set that example.”

The state of Pennsylvania will receive 97,500 doses this week that will be distributed to 83 hospitals equipped with special freezers.

“We have three minutes in which to get the vaccine from the shipping box into the freezer,” Dr. Sivak said.

Dr. Sivak says they’ve prioritized who gets the first shots.

“Likely going to be an anesthesiologist or emergency room physician who’s 67 years old and has diabetes,” Dr. Sivak said. “They’re at the highest professional and personal risk.”

Because the vaccine can cause flu-like side effects, hospitals will provide vaccines on a rolling basis, so staffing that’s already an issue, doesn’t get worse.

“So if you have a fever, is it from vaccine or coincidental COVID? So we’re going to have a process around this,” Dr. Sivak said, adding they will get everybody injected in probably two to three weeks.

“Today is a new chapter in the fight,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Vaccine supplies are expected to increase, especially as others are approved. Some won’t be shipped until the second doses are needed in 21 days for the Pfizer vaccine.

“We have to be realistic as well,” Dr. Levine said. “It is going to take a significant period of time to roll out the vaccine.”

Polls have shown about 10% to 20% of health care workers don’t want to be in the first wave of vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Cooper Hospital in Camden announced it will start vaccinating its staff Tuesday morning.


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Stephanie Stahl