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SLO County receives, administers first round of COVID-19 vaccines 

Hospital workers and emergency responders across San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties got their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during the week of Dec. 14.

A shipment of 1,950 doses arrived at the SLO County Public Health Department on Dec. 16, and two days later, the county vaccinated its first five residents, including Marla Howard, a hemodialysis nurse at Davita Dialysis Centers and a Morro Bay resident.

click to enlarge AMONG THE FIRST Dr. Trees Ritter, an infectious disease specialist with Dignity Health, was among the first Central Coast health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. He said after, "I honestly didn't even feel it." - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • AMONG THE FIRST Dr. Trees Ritter, an infectious disease specialist with Dignity Health, was among the first Central Coast health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. He said after, "I honestly didn't even feel it."

"I'm just so damn excited to get this vaccination today. ... I want to get on with living and stop all the death," Howard said at a press conference outside the SLO County Public Health building on Johnson Avenue prior to her inoculation.

Dialysis nurses like Howard, hospital workers, paramedics and EMTs, staff and patients in assisted living facilities, public health officials, and other medical workers will be among the first in SLO County to receive what's currently a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Public Health has started running daily vaccination clinics for eligible recipients.

"We anticipate that [the first phase of vaccinations] will take us through January, if not through February," Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said during the Dec. 16 press conference.

On Dec. 22, SLO County reported getting another 975 Pfizer doses as well as its first 3,600 doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine. Officials expect to receive more of both vaccines in the coming weeks—with availability for the general public still months away.

Some allotments are going directly to area hospitals.

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria vaccinated its first workers on Dec. 17, a moment that was met with applause and cheers from the hospital staff who have worked day and night throughout the pandemic to keep community members alive.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Trees Ritter was the first to receive it.

"Physically it doesn't feel like anything, but emotionally it's amazing," Ritter said.

The 1,950 doses that Marian received will be used to vaccinate as many people as possible, and the hospital isn't holding back any of the doses for the second round that the vaccine requires.

"Everyone requires two doses, but it will be resupplied enough that we want to get as many people the first dose as possible," Ritter explained. "The data suggests that most people have about a 90 percent effectiveness after 10 days of their first dose, and the second dose is to supplement that ... up to that high effectiveness of about 94, 95 percent."

Ritter said that the hospital is prioritizing anyone who has contact with COVID-19 patients in the first round of vaccination, which includes emergency room workers, COVID-19 unit health care workers, and those who are involved with other aspects of the care process such as dietary, cleaning, and environmental services.

"Doctors and nurses are not more important than other people who work in our hospital," Ritter said. "This is a team effort."

Ritter said that once more doses become available for the general public to begin receiving vaccinations, Marian Regional Medical Center will likely assist with that effort.

"We try to partner with the county Public Health Department wherever we can, so we will continue to act as though we are all in this together, because we know that we are, and will do whatever it takes to help our community," Ritter said.

Dr. Scott Robertson, the chief medical officer at Dignity Health Central Coast—which operates SLO's French Hospital, Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, and Marian—said that while having enough manpower to administer the vaccine will be a challenge, he is confident it can be done.

"There's never been a mass vaccination effort quite like this in the United States," he said. "The CDC is also working with other community partners such as Walgreens and CVS to be major distribution hubs for the COVID-19 vaccine."

The vaccine arrival couldn't come at a more crucial time, as local hospitals are facing a record number of COVID-19 patients. As of press time, 38 SLO County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 2,050 active cases and 65 deaths countywide since March.

SLO County Public Health Officer Borenstein implored community members to continue following public health orders, including wearing masks and socially distancing.

"This is not the time to let down your guard," she said. Δ

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