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Richard O. Ajayi

UPMC: On the Frontline of COVID-19 Battle

By Kevin Brown

UPMC officials announced their progress on several fronts in the COVID-19 battle at a news media briefing on Jan. 12. Participating in the briefing were Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC, David A. Nace, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer at UPMC Senior Communities, and Donald Yealy, M.D., UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh. 

According to Tami Minnier, UPMC had administered over 41,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to their frontline healthcare workers as of the morning of the briefing. “This represents well over half of our clinical facing staff. We are now vaccinating thousands of employees every day. We expect to have the frontline staff who want the vaccine inoculated by the end of January and have already begun administering the second dose to the earliest recipients,” she said. Ms. Minnier noted that 9,000 employees had already received the second dose of the vaccine.

Ms. Minnier also described UPMC’s efforts in helping non-UPMC frontline healthcare workers receive the vaccine.
“In addition to vaccinating our own staff and many nursing home residents, our teams have worked around the clock since the New Year's holiday weekend and we have built a system to share vaccines with our non-UPMC frontline health care workers in our communities,” she said, noting that 2,300 non-UPMC workers have been vaccinated.

“We have very aggressive, region-by-region plans launching this week to share vaccines with additional EMS, police, fire and other key frontline personnel. We're prioritizing non-UPMC health care workers who serve under-resourced communities,” she explained.

“When a job needs doing, we roll up our sleeves and get it done. In this case, literally by rolling up our sleeves,” she added.

Dr. Nace reported on UPMC’s progress in administering the vaccine to employees and residents of UPMC’s senior communities. “As of Monday, we've administered just over 1,300 vaccines to roughly 830 of our healthcare workers, and about 475 of our long-term care residents. That's about half of our skilled nursing facility residents. So far, we provided vaccines to 17 out of the 27 skilled nursing personal care and assisted living facilities through our long-term care pharmacy,” he said.

He also noted a high acceptance rate of the vaccine among workers and residents. “Similar to the exceptionally high acceptance rates that we've seen in our hospital population, about 75 to 80 percent of our nursing home staff and residents who have been offered the vaccine and have been eligible have replied to [receive] the vaccination.”

In addition to the vaccine, UPMC is also offering therapies to help prevent complications of COVID-19 in high-risk people who contract the virus.

“Vaccines are not the only tool in our arsenal,” said Dr. Yealy. “We've been highly effective in making monoclonal antibodies available to the right patients at the right time, and that's before they are sick enough to need hospital care. These medications are IV infusions. They're used in non-hospitalized people who are vulnerable to the complications of COVID-19 illness and infection. If given early in their illness, this medication can help keep these people out of the hospital,” he said.

Dr. Yealy also discussed the progress UPMC is making in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“Overall, COVID-19 outcomes are improved, likely because of standardization around evidence- based care, including the use of steroids and other medications that help change the immune response, pioneered here through the novel UPMC REMAP adaptive platform trials that we've discussed before,” he said.

“The proportion of patients seen in our emergency departments who are admitted for hospital care fell by 25 percent compared to the spring, and the percentage of COVID patients who were started on a breathing machine also dropped by 10 percent. The death rate for people who were never placed on a breathing machine for COVID-19 illness is 9 percent. That's in sharp contrast to the 65 percent death rate in the hospital for those who require a breathing machine. These observations are not only consistent across all of our UPMC sites, but with other sites around the country,” he noted.

“I don't share these numbers to downplay anything. COVID-19 poses very serious risks for many people, especially the elderly, and those with underlying conditions. Any of our frontline nurses, doctors, and other clinicians will tell you this disease is deadly,” he said.

For more information about UPMC and COVID-19, visit the UPMC website at www.upmc.com, or call 1-800-533-UPMC.

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