With FDA approval of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, vaccinations remain top of mind for metro Atlanta health care systems

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Aug. 26, 2021

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Janet Christenbury
jmchris@emory.edu

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Emory Healthcare

ATLANTA – With the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week for individuals 16 years of age and older, Emory Healthcare continues to work with the community and other metro Atlanta area hospitals to convey the importance of being vaccinated. The vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and more than five billion doses have been given worldwide.

For those who have been waiting for full FDA approval to get vaccinated, this news should give additional confidence to move forward with vaccination. The FDA has determined the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine meets the highest standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product.

The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for individuals 12 through 15 years of age, and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

Last week, in strong support of COVID-19 vaccination, six metro Atlanta health systems came together to host a press conference at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to address the surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations across metro Atlanta and urge the importance of these life-saving vaccinations. Representatives from Emory Healthcare, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Grady Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Healthcare and Wellstar Health System spoke about the need for COVID-19 vaccination in our community and beyond to help bring an end to the pandemic.

The backdrop of Mercedes-Benz stadium was selected for the press conference following an announcement that the Atlanta Falcons were the first team in the NFL to reach a 100 percent vaccination rate, vaccinating every player on the squad.

At the press conference, officials pointed to the highly infectious COVID-19 Delta variant and the high percentage of unvaccinated individuals who remain vulnerable to severe illness as the main drivers of the surge in hospitalizations across the state. Health care systems are reporting that most patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

For health care workers who have been caring for patients with COVID-19 for the past 18 months, the latest surge is very challenging.

“The COVID-19 surge has deeply impacted front line clinicians, because we know the spread of the virus is preventable,” said Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, chief nurse executive for Emory Healthcare, at the press conference. “Vaccinations drastically reduce hospitalizations and illness. If we are unable to curb the spread of COVID-19, the care many people need may be much harder to receive.”

These surges take a physical and mental toll on health care workers. According to Pappas, many nurses and clinicians have left the health care profession due to the heightened stress of the pandemic. Subsequent decreases in staffing make it more difficult to provide access to care for all patients.

Hospital officials also described emergency departments filling up with unvaccinated patients of all ages who are severely ill with COVID-19. They warned that the current surge is on track to match or exceed the overwhelming levels seen last winter.

“Patients without COVID-19 also continue to be admitted,” Pappas said. “They require specialized care, too.” Everyday patient volumes combined with the influx of COVID-19 patients leads to longer wait times in emergency departments, she said.

As unvaccinated patients strain hospital systems, Pappas called for members of metro Atlanta communities to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and severe illness by getting vaccinated.

Emory has been involved in testing all three vaccines currently in use in the U.S., including the newly FDA-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Experts anticipate that full FDA approval for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, currently available under EUA, will follow in the coming weeks.