James F. Witko

Dr. James F. Witko, a pulmonologist with Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital takes the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine Thursday morning.

Dr. James F. Witko, a pulmonologist with Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, rolled up his sleeve Thursday morning and became the first recipient of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at the South Boston location.

This was after Sentara Norfolk General Hospital received a shipment of 11,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday morning and began making shipments to their 10 locations with Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital receiving their shipment Wednesday.

Joni Henderson with Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital did not provide an exact number on the amount of vaccines they have available saying that number will “change often as (they) begin (their) COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

“Allocation is based on a prioritization model based on number of employees working in high risk units at that location and who has signed up for vaccination clinics,” said Henderson.

Vaccination is voluntary for Sentara employees, and Witko shared that he decided to get the vaccine, which he called a “simple shot” to “help protect (his) patients, coworkers, community and family.

“It is the right thing to do. I have seen firsthand the severity of COVID-19. This vaccine is the hope we have been waiting for,” he added.

The initial vaccine distribution will go to a priority group that includes emergency department staff, ICUs, COVID patient units, respiratory unit staff and hospital staff who provide services in these areas (e.g. ESD, food service, staff who go into patient rooms), among others.

Then they will open the vaccine up to a broader group of hospital employees as well as medical officer personnel who interact with patients. Then the vaccine will be available to first responders, EMS, firemen and police.

“It will likely be the second quarter of 2021 when the vaccine becomes widely available,” Mary Morin, head of Sentara’s COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce said Monday afternoon.

Gov. Ralph Northam also said he hopes to have the vaccination available to all Virginians by late spring, early summer.

“We expect to have enough to get to everybody, but it will take time so we all need to be patient,” Northam said last week.

Sentara also is hoping to receive a shipment of 20,800 doses of the vaccine from Moderna on Dec. 21.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) met on Thursday to discuss the request for emergency use authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc.

After it becomes widely available to the public, Witko is hoping everyone will take advantage of it.

“In my opinion I would suggest everyone to get the vaccine so that we can begin to move forward and overcome COVID-19,” the pulmonologist said.