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‘It’s really the best way to bring COVID-19 to an end’: Mount Airy doctor among first to receive vaccine

Dr. Michael Winters, a resident of Mount Airy, on Monday became one of the first Marylanders from a medical system, and one of the first emergency medical physicians, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said he feels like his normal self physically after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine with no significant side effects other than a sore arm.

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“I am really happy to be opening this chapter during our fight against COVID,” he said in an interview Tuesday evening, adding that he is also glad to represent those in emergency medicine.

Winters was among five University of Maryland Medical System front-line health care workers who received the Pfizer vaccine on Monday. The other recipients were a physician, a nurse, a respiratory therapist and an environmental service worker. UMMS received one tray of 975 vaccine doses and is in the process of allocating doses across the system. An additional vaccine delivery is expected later this week.

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All Maryland hospitals and nursing homes will receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the next two weeks, state officials said Tuesday.

Mt Airy Doctor Among First University of Maryland Medical System Frontline Healthcare Workers Receive COVID-19 Vaccine. Michael Winters, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Mt Airy Doctor Among First University of Maryland Medical System Frontline Healthcare Workers Receive COVID-19 Vaccine. Michael Winters, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine. (Courtesy Photo)

Maryland’s initial allocation of the vaccine is largely reserved for health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes, but the state is also setting aside doses for local health departments to vaccinate first responders, acting public health secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan said. Those could start within the next few weeks.

On Monday, the University of Maryland Medical Center was the first hospital in the state to report receiving the Pfizer vaccine for front-line health care workers.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he is activating the Maryland National Guard to help with the logistics of vaccine distribution and planning, and to eventually set up mobile clinics. A public outreach campaign focused on vaccinations is also planned, including statewide public service announcements.

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The state is initially getting 155,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Officials expect to receive a total of 300,000 doses by the end of the month, but say that number depends on vaccine production. Vaccines will be sent directly to hospitals. Every Maryland hospital will get an allocation of the initial 155,000 doses, Chan emphasized.

Winters, vice chair of clinical and administrative affairs who also works clinical shifts during the week in the adult emergency department, said it’s been a challenge for him and his colleagues over the past 10 months.

Some weeks there were a lot of sick patients with the coronavirus, and the unknown caused anxiety. Personal protective equipment was always worn and the hypervigilance never turned off. He said some of his colleagues, earlier in the year, rented hotel rooms and Airbnbs out of fear of bringing the virus home to their families.

But after learning more about it, the anxiety lessened and he witnessed the staff band together like never before during his 20 years in the field, he said.

About one-quarter of Carroll countians said they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available according to the Community COVID-19 Vaccine Survey taken by some 10,600 people from Nov. 28 through Dec. 8. More than 3,300 people, or roughly 32%, said they’d definitely get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, while 23% said they’d definitely not take it (2,340). Nearly 20% who answered said they’d probably get the vaccine.

Those who said they wouldn’t get the vaccine, or weren’t sure, listed side effects and safety as their top reasons why. Some who left comments said they’d rather wait and see what happens to others before deciding. Others said they felt worried a vaccine might wind up giving them COVID-19, much like they believe a flu shot can result in a case of influenza for that person.

“I’ll be honest, I had no skepticism,” Winters said.

The physician said people from across the world have dedicated time to develop the vaccine. Although, he and his colleagues were part of the first group to receive the official vaccination, the reality is tens of thousands of people already took the vaccine during its phase three test trials.

“Most of us receive seasonal influenza vaccines and I would approach it the same,” Winters said.

He added patients are not receiving a live virus, instead they are getting a protein component of it. Winters said he feels that it’s not only safe for him, but for his family, extended family, neighbors and friends.

“Anyone who asks, I would wholeheartedly endorse it,” he said. “It’s really the best way to bring COVID-19 to an end.”

Winters said he will receive his second dose during the first week of January. He said the first dose is about 50% effective and he will still wear his mask and physically distance from others. The second dose, which can be given after three or four weeks, is about 98% effective.

“It’s not a magic bullet with the first dose,” he said. “People still need to be vigilant.”

Alison Knezevich and Meredith Cohn contributed to this story.

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