WEST READING, Pa. – Despite reports that a new strain of coronavirus is spreading overseas, healthcare workers in Berks County said they're optimistic that there's light at the end of the tunnel.
On Monday, Reading Hospital began vaccinating frontline workers.
"I was both honored and thrilled to get the first dose," said Dr. Debra Powell, the hospital's chief of infectious disease.
Powell is among the thousands of Pennsylvania healthcare workers who have been inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We got 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, so we had to prioritize our health care workers based on their exposure and risk," Powell said.
Emergency room, intensive care unit and COVID-care providers are the first to get the vaccine at Reading Hospital. It is expected that the hospital will get a shipment off the Modena vaccine later this week.
"The vaccine is over 94% effective. It's very safe, and they were able to get it to market so quick because they did both clinical trials and production at the same time," said Powell. "I really commend the scientists who were able to do this."
Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's secretary of health, announced that next week, CVS and Walgreens will start on-site COVID-19 vaccination services for residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities.
"Operation Warp Speed also has a process in place to ensure that individuals that have received the first doses of either vaccine are absolutely able to get the necessary second dose," Levine noted on Monday.
While the medical community remains optimistic, a new strain of coronavirus appears to be spreading in parts of Europe.
"We're hopeful the antibody to the spike protein will still protect, no matter what strain it is but, that's still unknown," said Powell, who added that it's normal for viruses to mutate.
Powell also said she believes it will take three to six months to vaccinate enough people to maximize the potential of the vaccine.
"We're going to have to have 60% to 80% of our population being vaccinated," she said.
While the urgency for a COVID-19 vaccine has only been apparent for months now, much of the science behind it has been worked on and developed for years.
"This has been being researched for years, and we're just putting it all together now to get the vaccine out," Powell noted. "We're using the best science available."