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Morro Bay mayor volunteers to administer COVID-19 vaccines in SLO County 

From the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, John Headding, mayor of Morro Bay, found ways to give back to his community as an elected official and as a resident of the county.

When the San Luis Obispo County Health Department began gearing up for a potential surge in positive COVID-19 cases last March, it ordered additional respirators, hospital beds, and coordinated with Cal Poly to create an alternative care site.

click to enlarge VOLUNTEERING AT FRONT LINES Morro Bay Mayor John Headding is currently volunteering with the SLO County Public Health Department to administer COVID-19 vaccines. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLES BROWN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Charles Brown
  • VOLUNTEERING AT FRONT LINES Morro Bay Mayor John Headding is currently volunteering with the SLO County Public Health Department to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

To equip the facility with enough medical staff, the emergency planners called for health care providers to sign up for the Medical Reserve Corps—and Headding did just that.

Headding's medical background includes being a pharmacist for more than 40 years. He opened the pharmacy Cambria Drug and later Morro Bay Drug with his wife, a registered nurse, but has since retired from operating those brick-and-mortar shops.

Fortunately, the county hasn't had a need to call the members of the Medical Reserve Corps, so Headding volunteered to facilitate the nasal swab COVID-19 test last year. And now that the county Public Health Department is able to provide the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to residents 75 and older, he volunteered to administer it.

"The way out of this pandemic, in my opinion as a health care professional, is to achieve herd immunity and get as many people vaccinated as possible," he said.

Headding has about three shifts a week thus far and is hoping to continue lending his time to assist in administering the vaccine to those who need and want it.

Volunteering for nasal-swab duties and vaccine administration has been two entirely different atmospheres, Headding said.

Typically he said residents who get a test are concerned or have feelings of anxiousness that they potentially have the virus. But when he gets to administer a vaccine, residents express their gratitude and are often excited to be at the vaccinating site.

When administering the vaccine, Headding gets to answer questions residents have and help them with next steps on getting another appointment for their second dose.

The volunteer position does call for him to come into close contact with others, so he was able to get his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 5. He said he didn't have any symptoms or side effects, such as a sore arm, after getting the vaccine. A potential reaction that could occur after the second dose, he said, is fatigue and a mild headache.

"The thing about that is most people don't realize that's a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine," he said.

As a pharmacist, Headding said he could confidently say that there isn't a chance someone getting the vaccine could get the novel virus from it. There's a lot of misinformation on social media, and he said he's hoping to help get accurate information out to SLO County residents.

The COVID-19 vaccine, which he suggests everyone gets every year, differs from the seasonal flu vaccine, he said, because the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is only somewhere between 48 and 60 percent. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are about 95 percent effective.

"I've given shingles shots, pneumonia, flu, measles, mumps, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and other shots. These two [Moderna and Pfizer] vaccines that we have now are two of the most effective against the virus of any vaccines that we already have," he said.

He acknowledges that there are residents who are concerned about the process to approve both vaccines, but he said no clinical process was circumvented. Instead "there were significant dollars infused into the system by the federal government to allow these drug companies to have the resources available that they normally wouldn't have."

For more information on the vaccine, who is eligible to receive it, and where to get it, visit recoverslo.org.

Fast fact

• The annual football season finale Sunday Chicken Barbecue that funds The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. High School Memorial Scholarship Fund is canceled this year; however, donations are still needed. Scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors from San Luis Obispo, Mission College Preparatory, and Pacific Beach High Schools. The scholarship recipients must demonstrate financial need, scholastic potential, and a sincere desire for furthering their post-secondary education. For more information or to donate visit mlkfund.org. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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