Phase One of the COVID-19 Vaccination Delivered Today for Frontline Personnel at SUNY Hospitals with Vaccinations Starting Today

December 15, 2020

Recently Approved Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine, with Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Stephen Thomas from SUNY Upstate Medical, Received and Ready to Administer

Medical Personnel at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences, Upstate Medical, and Stony Brook University Hospital Received First Shipment of Doses

Albany, NY – As the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine continues to be distributed in New York State this week, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras announced that phase one of the vaccination program is set to begin today at SUNY hospitals for its healthcare personnel. The recently approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with lead principal investigator, Dr. Stephen Thomas from Upstate Medical, has been received and is ready to administer today.

SUNY hospitals—SUNY Downstate Health Sciences, Upstate Medical, and Stony Brook University Hospital—will provide the first dose to medical personnel with a priority on those directly caring for patients with COVID-19 starting today. As directed by the New York State Department of Health, SUNY is following guidance to vaccinate first responders in medical roles such as emergency medical services providers and examiners. SUNY's hospitals have been at the forefront of caring for patients in some of the hardest hit locations, including SUNY Downstate Health Sciences, serving as a COVID-only hospital, and Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island during the first surge in cases last spring. All three hospitals are currently serving patients infected with the virus.

"Our SUNY Hospitals and our heroic staff continue to be on the frontlines fighting this vicious virus, working tirelessly to treat and care for New Yorkers while also on the forefront of developing innovative pool testing and leading the vaccine trials," said Chancellor Malatras. "With today's delivery of the first doses of vaccines, our frontline staff and many others to follow will rest assured that with our collective work, we are on our way to defeating the virus."

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University President Wayne J. Riley, M.D. said, "Having been designated a COVID-19-only hospital by Governor Cuomo placed us in a unique position. As we approached the apex in the spring, these dedicated professionals continued working, caring for, and comforting patients amid many uncertainties. The vaccine provides the necessary protections for us to care for those in our community—mainly people of color—who were and are hardest hit by the virus. We are encouraged by the progress to fight this virus."

Upstate Medical President Mantosh Dewan said, "The approval and subsequent delivery of Pfzier/BioNtech vaccine fills us with hope and gives us perhaps our greatest resource in the fight against COVID-19. I applaud researchers around the globe for their unrelenting work at developing this vaccine. I also applaud the more than 300 individuals who enrolled in this vaccine's clinical trial at Upstate—as well as the literally thousands more who were on a waiting list—and who have helped to bring us to this day. As vaccination delivery plans emerge, we must be mindful that we will still need to wear masks, and be physically distant as immunity to the virus builds throughout our communities."

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis said, "The dedicated frontline workers at Stony Brook University Hospital battled this virus at its peak last spring, treating more than six thousand patients suspected of having the coronavirus, and several hundred more since then, saving many lives along the way. They can now feel more confident that they will be protected while caring for their patients as the pandemic continues. We look forward to being able to administer this and subsequent vaccines, to increase our healthcare providers' ability to beat this pervasive virus."

For almost three months, several hundred SUNY Downstate frontline doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians, and other healthcare and essential workers provided direct and indirect care to the patients at the University Hospital of Brooklyn, one of New York City's COVID-only hospitals in the spring. In addition to emergency hospital care, SUNY Downstate established a dedicated outpatient clinic for the ongoing care of discharged patients following inpatient and outpatient treatment for COVID. The clinic was especially critical considering that many of these patients had pre-existing conditions. Nearly 90 percent of patients treated at SUNY Downstate had at least two co-morbidities and 30 percent had three or more.

At Stony Brook University Hospital, of those treated of suspected COVID cases, more than 1,200 patients were hospitalized as cases surged on Long Island last spring. Among these patients, more than 25 percent required admission to the ICU, and the vast majority of those required mechanical ventilation. More than half of the COVID-19 intensive care unit patients hospitalized at Stony Brook Medicine were cared for by surgical faculty and surgical residents, with the core team monitoring the disease.

SUNY Upstate Research

As the lead principal investigator of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Dr. Thomas, Upstate's Chief of Infectious Disease, supported Pfizer and BioNTech as they prepared vaccine trial data for submission to regulatory agencies worldwide, including the FDA, which approved the vaccine late last week.

SUNY Upstate Medical Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Stephen Thomas said, "Widespread vaccination with safe and efficacious vaccines, combined with ramping up masking and avoiding gatherings, could dramatically impact our state's epidemic curve, save lives, and bring much needed relief to our health care system and health care teams. I eagerly await my turn to be vaccinated."

As one of the global phase three vaccine trial sites, SUNY Upstate Medical was one of three sites and enrolled more than 300 adult volunteers in the trial. The study of the vaccine candidate in younger volunteers will begin soon, with Upstate Medical being selected again as one of a few sites.

SUNY hospitals and other campuses have been leading healthcare research since the COVID pandemic began. In addition to SUNY Upstate's involvement in the vaccine, the Syracuse hospital received FDA and NYSDOH approval for a saliva test that has been used across SUNY campuses to test students, faculty, and staff throughout the fall semester. Last week, the FDA ranked it as the number one COVID-19 saliva test for detecting the virus in its earliest stages. The test developed by Upstate Medical and NY Start-Up Quadrant Biosciences, and led by Upstate's Dr. Frank Middleton, was also cited by the FDA as being among the most sensitive tests regardless of type, ranking 6th worldwide in detecting the virus. The test is cost effective and easy to use. During the fall semester, SUNY has conducted 609,582 tests to date and had a positive rate of 0.53 percent.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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