Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria administered its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech to frontline workers Thursday.
Hundreds of Dignity Health Central Coast employees will receive a vaccine from the initial shipment of 1,900 doses. Staff members will have to get a second dose for the vaccine to be effective.
Marian Regional Medical Center is not requiring staff to get vaccinated, but 98% of its employees answered in a survey that they intend to receive the vaccine.
Dr. Trees Ritter, an infectious disease specialist at Dignity Health Central Coast, was first in line.
“Physically, I didn’t even feel it. Emotionally, it felt amazing to feel like we can turn the corner,” he said in an interview with the News-Press.
Spirits were high as health care workers rolled up their sleeves and received their first dose. Staff members cheered for one another and even broke into small, celebratory dances.
“It’s a big sense of relief to have the vaccine on site,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Robertson said. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’ve still got a long path ahead of us.”
Even once someone’s received both doses of the vaccine, it’s important to still follow all the precautions, he said. He doesn’t anticipate policies changing until the infection rate is low.
“Despite this glimmer of good news, the overall situation is still fairly dire,” Dr. Ritter said. “And it’s up to everybody out there to do their part to bring this under control.”
Santa Maria has reported 77 COVID-19 deaths and 5,441 cases, 341 of which are still infectious.
“It’s certainly helpful at any time to get the vaccine, but we’re hopeful it can help lower the rate of infection. And we’re hopeful that this will be the last surge,” Dr. Robertson said.
Dr. Ritter, despite working in a hospital, was more worried about catching COVID-19 at home from his teenage daughters. There has not been any COVID-19 transmission within the hospital.
“When people get infected, it’s usually when they let their guards down, and when they’re with their close friends,” he said.
Marian Regional Medical Center will be continuing its precautions, including 14-day quarantines, despite staff members receiving the vaccine.
The second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered 21 days after the first. The Moderna-manufactured vaccine, which was cleared by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel Thursday, has 28 days between doses.
Dr. Robertson anticipates receiving the Moderna vaccine by the end of next week.
“If those on the front lines are willing to receive it, hopefully the public will too,” Dr. Robertson said.
The vaccine was also received at Lompoc Valley Medical Center on Thursday afternoon, and employees were vaccinated based on risk-stratification published by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Vaccinations will occur for approximately five days, or until LVMC’s allocation is finished, said Chief Operations Officer Dr. Naishadh Buch.
Among the staff receiving the vaccine on Thursday were physicians, nursing staff and environmental services workers.
“People should absolutely take this vaccine,” said Dr. William Pierce, LVMC Chief of Medical Staff and general surgeon. “There will be side effects. The greater good is served if as many people as possible get this vaccine. I wanted to be right up there. It helps me feel very safe working in a hospital with COVID patients.”
Dr. Pierce said the shot was not painful. His vaccine was administered by Cardiologist Dr. Khawar Gul. Other nursing and medical staff helped administer the vaccines, which were managed and prepared by the LVMC Pharmacy department under the guidance of Director of Pharmacy Services Sarah Osellame.
“I hope people are encouraged to get the vaccine,” Dr. Pierce said.
LVMC is not currently offering vaccines to the general public. The vaccine is not mandatory for LVMC staff.
“We have spoken of the light at the end of this tunnel and it has finally arrived in Santa Barbara County,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, health officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, said in a news release. “This vaccine is our most important tool for ending the COVID-19 pandemic in our county. While the light at the end of the tunnel has arrived, we are very much still in the tunnel, as we’ve heard State officials share.
“We need every community member to continue wearing a mask, staying home as much as possible, and for those that have tested positive, please isolate immediately.”
Dr. Anosrg said the arrival of the vaccine “could not come at a more critical time for our county,” as COVID-19 cases have surged in recent days.
“We have been working for months to prepare for a local distribution plan and will begin with those with the highest risk of becoming infected and spreading COVID-19,” he said.
As more supply becomes available, the county will progress in the phased distribution of the most powerful tool we have against COVID-19, increasing the opportunity for more people in our community to get vaccinated. The general public will have a chance to be vaccinated as soon as this spring.
News-Press Associate Editor Mitchell White contributed to this report.