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UPMC distributes 'safe & effective' vaccine to thousands of frontline workers and touts success of monoclonal antibodies

UPMC continues to conduct antibody therapy research. Doctors say it could aid COVID-19 care and be a future model for infections.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — On Tuesday, UPMC leaders provided an update on the health system's progress distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccinations.

So far, health officials say thousands of first doses of the vaccine have been distributed to clinical staff and nonaffiliated frontline workers.

With the federal government planning to release reserved doses of the vaccine, those numbers could increase very soon.

"We are frankly thrilled and very supportive to hear of the decision at a federal level to see vaccine distribution accelerated," said Tami Minnier, UPMC's Chief Quality Officer.

41,700 first doses to more than half of its clinical staff have been distributed, and UPMC reports 80% of frontline workers who say they are willing to get the shot.

At a press briefing today, UPMC leaders discussed the health system's progress with administering COVID-19 vaccinations to frontline employees.

Minnier says she is not only confident in the health system's vaccination rollout efforts but the medicine itself.

"Those we have vaccinated to date have experienced typical side effects: Sore arms, some fatigue, muscle aches, but this is a safe and effective vaccine," she added.

Beyond its own staff, UPMC reports vaccinating 2,300 EMS and frontline workers who are not employed by UPMC. The health system addressed the travel time concerns some of those people have reported to FOX43.

"We have absolutely have done our very best to minimize the amount of travel that individuals have to do to get the vaccine. There were a couple of locations added in the last few weeks in our Harrisburg region to be able to provide that accommodation going forward," said Minnier.

Because the Pfizer vaccine requires special handling and equipment, health officials anticipate what's to come.

"We look forward to some of the newer vaccines that are still being evaluated," said Dr. Donald Yealy. 

Dr. Yealy doesn't see vaccination as the only tool in combatting COVID-19. He says the health system has been highly effective in distributing monoclonal antibodies, or IV infusions, to people before they need hospital care and to help them recover from the illness. 

"UPMC continues research on its own improved version to antibody therapy - one that may aid not only COVID-19 care but could be a future model for infections," added Dr. Yealy.

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients.

To read more about the therapy, follow this link to the FDA's wesite.

With hospitals in York, Lancaster, Dauphin, and Cumberland Counties, UPMC reports what they call a high death rate or 75% for COVID-19 patients 70 and older and who need a breathing machine.

However, health officials are optimistic as they say COVID-19 outcomes have improved since the spring.

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