COVID-19 Vaccine

YNHHS vaccinates healthcare workers to combat COVID-19

A COVID-19 vaccination is one of the safest ways people may be able to return to what they remember as normal.

Yale New Haven Health started vaccinating its frontline healthcare workers with the FDA-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15. Vaccine rollout plans are a “work in progress,” but YNHHS expects to offer the vaccine to its healthcare workers who provide direct patient care or critical support, such as those working in the EDs, ICUs and COVID units over the next seven weeks. 

Initial doses of vaccines are limited. At this time, we are not vaccinating patients. Adults 65 years and older and high-risk individuals could be eligible for the vaccine between January and May. We anticipate a second phase of distribution for all other patients will start in the spring.

As soon as we can start vaccinating patients, we will let you know. Once the vaccine is available, your doctor will be able to schedule your shot through MyChart – an online tool that offers you personalized, secure access to portions of your medical record. If you don’t have a MyChart account, sign up today.

What you should know about the COVID-19 vaccine

Due to limited supply of the vaccine at this time, the federal and state governments have determined that frontline healthcare workers receive the first doses. To find out the latest information about the vaccine, head to our website. There, you will find answers to frequently asked questions, as well as information about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, patient concerns and the vaccine’s distribution plan.  

Until the vaccine is available to the public, there are a few things you should know.  

It is safe. 

All of the available data indicate that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe. While the COVID-19 vaccines are still being researched, it’s important to note that they had to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before they were cleared for emergency use. 

“Any time a new vaccine is presented to the FDA, it’s tested and reviewed thoroughly before approval, even if it’s for emergency use,” said Thomas Balcezak, MD, chief medical officer for Yale New Haven Health. 

After a multi-step process to approve a vaccine, the FDA, along with the CDC, will continue to monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. In addition to the FDA’s review, Connecticut’s governor has a vaccine advisory committee to review the data. The group, which includes Richard Martinello, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention for Yale New Haven Health, recommended the immediate distribution of the vaccine.

Dr. Richard Martinello: Frequently Asked Questions about the Vaccine 

The Pfizer vaccine consists of genetic material called mRNA, which stimulates the immune system to protect against the virus. The vaccine material breaks down quickly after it’s absorbed into cells and it does not impact our genes. The Moderna vaccine works in the same way.

The COVID-19 vaccines are new, but RNA vaccines have been around for the better part of the last decade. Researchers have been studying this method to develop vaccines against other illnesses including influenza, Ebola and the Zika virus. These studies helped researchers get to the point where we are today.

It is effective. 

The Pfizer vaccine is a two-shot series given around three weeks apart. It is about 95 percent effective within one week of getting the second dose. It’s only around 53 percent effective after the first dose, which is why it’s important for all recipients to get the second dose. The Moderna vaccine has a similar efficacy, which is about the same as many common immunizations to protect against illnesses like polio and measles.

“This vaccine is safe and effective. The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but the availability of a vaccine with such an impressive efficacy is a testament to the researchers who have worked on this technology for years,” said Dr. Balcezak. 

Another COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca is around 70 percent effective and uses a different technology than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
So far, the FDA predicts the Pfizer vaccine will be effective for several months and possibly a year. In the meantime, experts will continue to study the virus and the vaccines developed to fight it. 

Who should get the vaccine and when?

Right now, the CDC recommends that healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities be the first to receive the vaccine. Vaccination should be more widely available in mid-2021.

Under the emergency use authorization from the FDA, the vaccine can be given to anyone 16 and older, including the frail elderly. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation is that it should be safe for almost everyone. 

The FDA put only one group in the category of those who should not get the vaccine: people who have a known history of a severe allergic reaction to any component of the Pfizer vaccine.

Some people should consult with their doctor before getting the vaccine. For example, anyone who is currently sick with COVID-19 or another respiratory illness should wait before getting it. 

In addition, the Pfizer vaccine was not specifically studied for safety in pregnant patients. The CDC’s Advisory Committee is expected to make recommendations for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding in the near future.

Connecticut’s distribution plan rolls out in two phases:

  • Phase 1a: The first priority for vaccine distribution in Connecticut is for healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents and medical first responders.
  • Phase 1b (January-May): The state’s current distribution plan includes a second phase expected to take place from January through May for critical workers, adults over 65 and high-risk individuals under 65. 
  • Phase 2: The second phase is expected to take place from June through December and will include those under 18 and healthy individuals over 18. The state hopes all residents have access to the vaccine by late spring or early summer. 

Once Yale New Haven Health is clear to give the vaccine to patients, vaccinations will be scheduled through MyChart at our physicians’ offices and clinics. We view both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be equally effective in preventing COVID-19. There may be mild differences in the side effects (which only last for a couple of days), but both are equally safe and effective. For that reason, and in order to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible, individuals will not be able to choose which vaccine they receive.

How to play Santa for children at YNHCH

Just like the Grinch, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to upend a beloved tradition at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. Young patients at the hospital benefit from the many toy donations received throughout the year, but especially those given during the holiday season. This year, we are not able to accept in-person donations of toys. But you can still put a smile on the faces of our pediatric patients.

Donors can support patients and families this year by:

“We are all hopeful that these seasonal restrictions are temporary and that next year we can return to the long-held practice of having in-person toy drives and deliveries made to YNHCH,” said Cynthia Sparer, senior vice president, Operations at Yale New Haven Hospital and executive director, Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services at YNHCH. “The thoughtfulness of our community throughout the year has always been a cornerstone of making the holidays special for our youngest patients. We look forward to continuing that time-honored tradition this year but with some new guidelines designed to keep everyone healthy and safe.” 

“A medical treatment can be scary and lonely for a child. While 2020 has changed many things, the one constant in the world is the smile on a child’s face when they receive a new toy,” said Diane Petra, co-chair, YNHH Auxiliary Toy Closet Program. “We remain committed to supplying toys for our pediatric patients 365 days of the year, thanks to the generosity of our caring community of donors.”

For more information about donations, please contact the Yale New Haven Hospital Office of Development at 203-688-9644 or [email protected]. Inquiries about donating to the Toy Closet Program should be made to the Yale New Haven Hospital Auxiliary at 203-688-5717 or [email protected]

Managing your diabetes at home during COVID-19

Healthy lifestyle changes and medication can make a big difference for the millions of people in the U.S. with diabetes. A steady routine is key to managing the chronic condition from home.

“Most people don’t have symptoms unless their blood sugar is really quite high, and so anytime the sugar is higher than normal, it can be causing damage to the body,” said Jennifer Brackett, APRN, a certified diabetes educator with Northeast Medical Group in North Haven. “So it’s really the day-to-day management that’s so important for diabetes.”

Disruption in routines due to COVID-19 may make managing diabetes more difficult. Brackett shares some tips for patients:

  • Stay on top of medications
    Patients with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, a hormone that moves blood sugar through the body, so they need to take insulin to survive. With type 2 diabetes, most patients are still producing insulin, but the body isn’t using it properly.

    Brackett said anyone who relies on insulin or certain other medications to manage their diabetes must make sure they have enough of the supplies they need at home to check their blood sugar and to treat a low blood sugar if they have one. Even if you’re stuck at home, many pharmacies offer deliveries or mail orders.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    It’s easier to stick to a healthy diet if you have healthy foods readily available. Brackett recommends keeping high protein, shelf stable foods on hand such as canned tuna or chicken, dried beans and whole grains.

    Get moving every day, especially if you’re working from home. From chair exercises to short workouts on YouTube, Brackett said there’s something for everyone. If you’re a smoker, there’s no better time to quit.

  • Manage Stress
    Stress can have a big impact on everyone. For people with diabetes, it can even raise blood sugar levels. Common coping mechanisms like food or alcohol won’t help. Brackett said acknowledging your stress is the first step. Help alleviate stress by exercising or connecting with friends or family members. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out to a medical professional for help.

  • Schedule your routine visits
    Unchecked diabetes can lead to damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. The number one cause of death for people with diabetes is heart disease. Routine screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels can help prevent complications.

    If you’re due for a screening, don’t postpone your appointment. Extra precautions are in place at all medical offices across Yale New Haven Health, including increased cleaning, mask wearing and temperature screenings. If you’re not able to leave home, Brackett said telehealth can be a good option.

Self-schedule your radiology imaging on MyChart

Many things have changed during COVID-19, but we’re still here for you. If your doctor orders a radiology test such as a screening mammogram, X-ray, or CT scan, Yale New Haven Hospital offers advanced imaging services at convenient locations.

All radiology requests (including X-ray) should be scheduled in advance, and a physician Epic order or requisition form is required. You can call the Radiology Central Scheduling line at 203-688-1010 (7 am to 7 pm daily) to schedule your imaging exam. 

As an alternative option to calling our appointment line, patients registered with MyChart may be able to schedule their own imaging exams online. When your provider submits the referral order to Radiology, you will receive an email notification to visit your MyChart account and schedule your appointment for the location and time of your choice from a list of ambulatory sites in the greater New Haven area. 

Self-scheduling is available for all X-rays and screening mammograms, and certain targeted ultrasound and CT scans. Other exams (such as breast ultrasound or diagnostic mammograms) require a call to the scheduling line for appointments. MyChart will let you know whether you can schedule your own appointment or if you need to call.   

MyChart gives Yale New Haven Health System patients secure, online, 24/7 access to portions of your electronic medical record (EMR). There you can see your medical history, most laboratory and test results, appointment information, medications, allergies, immunizations and other health information. You can schedule appointments with your doctor, request or renew prescriptions, pay your bill, and send and receive secure, confidential electronic messages with your doctor’s office.

Create your MyChart account by clicking on the “Sign up Now” button. Once registered, you’ll be able to view your imaging results within five business days. 

Be prepared: Know your medical history

If you or a loved one has to go to the hospital for any reason, make sure you’re prepared by gathering important medical information ahead of time. Your medical history includes details about any health problems you’ve ever had. Write down your medical history, your current medications, and any allergies that you may have. This information gives your providers all kinds of important clues about what’s going on with your health.

Download a health history summary form

Virtual yoga for Smilow cancer patients

Smilow Cancer Hospital patients can relax, renew and rejuvenate in the comfort of your own home with specially designed yoga classes offered online through Zoom. The free class includes gentle poses and modifications, stretching and strengthening exercises, mindful breathing practices and systematic relaxation at the end of every class. No previous yoga experience is necessary.

The class is held Thursdays from 10 – 11 am. Select a date to register.

Smilow patients should check with their treatment team before participating to determine if yoga is appropriate at this time.

Questions about cancer? “Yale Cancer Answers”

“Yale Cancer Answers” is a radio program produced by the Yale Cancer Center that provides listeners with the most up to date information on cancer screening, detection, treatment, and prevention. The program is hosted by Anees Chagpar, MD, director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven, and Steven Gore, MD, director of Hematologic Malignancies at Yale School of Medicine. Each week guest cancer specialists talk about the most recent advances in cancer therapy and answer questions from listeners  

“Yale Cancer Answers” airs Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm on WNPR. Tune in live online at wnpr.org, or choose from the podcast archives and listen to a specific topic. 

If you have a question to send in to Yale Cancer Answers for possible use during a show, please email it to [email protected].

“Yale Cancer Answers” is not intended to provide medical advice to listeners, but rather to provide information. Yale Cancer Center urges listeners to consult with a qualified physician for diagnosis and for answers to their personal medical questions. For additional information and direction about your diagnosis and/or treatment options, please call 1-855-4-SMILOW.

Laboratory services are open

Did your doctor order a test? We’re open for services. When your physician orders blood work, we make it easy with blood draw stations conveniently located in your community. A physician requisition form is required. All major insurance plans are accepted. Our blood draw stations honor requisitions from other labs. Please call 1-800-305-3278 for locations and hours of operation.

Referrals for physicians and surgeons

YNHH provides free information about and referrals to more than 2,600 affiliated physicians 24 hours a day. Call 888-700-6543 or visit our Find a Doctor feature on the hospital website for information on physician specialties, office hours and locations as well as insurance plans accepted. YNHH physicians represent more than 70 medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties, including internal medicine/family practice, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedics, pediatrics and psychiatry.  

What would you like to know? 

Want to learn more about a particular health topic or service? Questions about classes and events at YNHH? We want to hear from you! Tell us what you like about Advancing Care or how we can improve. Send an email and let us know how we can better serve your health needs.

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Make a lasting impact at YNHH

Help support the mission of Yale New Haven Hospital with a donation! Your contributions support vital programs, services and facilities within the hospital and help keep Yale New Haven at the forefront of innovative treatment. When you make a gift to YNHH, you are part of the advanced medicine and compassionate commitment that touch so many lives in our community.

Billing questions?

Yale New Haven Hospital offers financial counseling to patients and families. Spanish-speaking counselors are also available. To make an appointment with a financial counselor, call 203-688-2046.