COVID-19 Vaccine: UPMC Gives First and Second Shots as Soon as it Gets Vaccine

By: Allison Hydzik

The communities UPMC serves have responded enthusiastically to COVID-19 vaccination – so much so that demand for vaccine far outstrips supply.

“Our patients and health care workers are really optimistic about this vaccine and the important part it plays in slowing the pandemic,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC. “It’s heartening to see such enthusiasm for immunization – one of the tenets of infection prevention.”

UPMC follows federal and state guidance for prioritizing who gets the vaccine. In six weeks, the health system gave more than 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. This includes thousands of non-affiliated health care workers, whom UPMC is vaccinating at a rate more than four-fold that mandated by Pennsylvania health officials.

With this type of demand – and hardworking employees committed to resolving COVID-19 in the communities UPMC serves – the health system has gotten COVID-19 vaccine into arms within a week of its arrival at the health system’s facilities.

“We are not holding onto vaccine,” explained Snyder, who co-leads UPMC’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts. “As soon as we get it, we’re turning right around and giving it.”

Both COVID-19 vaccines currently available under emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are given in a two-dose regimen, with the first one given to “prime” the immune system and the second given several weeks later to “boost” that response. The doses are identical.

But UPMC is not saving half of the vaccine it receives for second doses.

“From the very start of the vaccine effort, our partners at the state committed to us that they would deliver a second dose for every first dose, right before they were due to be given,” Snyder said. “So far, they have not let us down, and we have not had to hold back any doses.”

And, Snyder says, UPMC is not experiencing any significant “no shows” for second dose appointments.

UPMC has the infrastructure in place to provide vaccination to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 complications as soon as it receives more vaccine supply. To avoid frustrating and stressful cancellations, the health system is ensuring a vaccine supply is ready before scheduling appointments.

While this resource is limited, UPMC is not planning to rely on an online process that is only accessible to those with an Internet connection and the privilege of time to request vaccine the minute scheduling opens. Instead, UPMC will deliver vaccine to the people who are most vulnerable to complications of COVID-19 based on their age and health, and who live where COVID-19 has caused the most suffering.

“The vaccine should go to those most in need, and where it will have the greatest impact. When vaccine supply increases and becomes widely available, UPMC will adapt and make vaccine available more widely,” Snyder said.

“Optimism in this vaccine is well placed,” he added. “But the vaccine will stop COVID-19 only if it is paired with the same infection prevention measures we’ve been practicing: wear a mask and physically distance from those you don’t live with. And we must continue to develop therapeutics, including monoclonal antibodies, to help those who are infected.”

A patient hotline at 1-833-299-4359 is available with UPMC’s latest vaccine updates.