‘Light at the end of this tunnel’ as health workers get region’s first vaccines
Four Ventura County health care workers received their initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, in front of the county’s Public Health Department offices in Oxnard.
The four healthcare workers were Juliana Svolos, a certified nursing assistant from Adventist Health Simi Valley; Gavin Jones, a registered trauma nurse who works in the emergency room at Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura and Santa Paula Hospital; Pilar Parker, a nurse in the intensive care units at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and Ojai Valley Hospital; and Dr. Raj Bhatia, the director of the intensive care unit at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo.
They each received a single shot in their arms of Pfizer’s recently approved vaccine. Jones and Parker had their families with them when they received their doses; once the vaccination was over, Jones picked up his little girl.
The Ventura County Public Health Department received 1,950 initial doses of the vaccine, which it will distribute to the smaller hospitals in the county over the course of several days. Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County’s public health officer, said the biggest hospitals received their doses directly from the state.
“I think it’s thrilling,” Levin said.
It takes 10 days to start building immunity to COVID-19, so getting the first shot doesn’t mean people are immune from it the moment the needle leaves their arm. Levin cautioned everyone who gets the shots to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks, both to protect themselves while developing immunity and to protect other people in the community, who might see them go maskless and think it’s OK to remove their own masks.
The next steps for the people who were vaccinated on Dec. 16 are the same as for everyone else who will be receiving vaccines. There are two phone apps people can join. In one, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will reach out to the people who received the vaccine every day for the first six days, to see if they had any initial reactions. Once those six days are up, the CDC will check in once a week for six weeks, to check for side effects that might develop later.
The vaccine the volunteers received is a two-step vaccine, and the second app reminds them when they need to get the second shot. The second vaccine establishes long-term immunity, so it’s crucial to get both, even if only the first one is available to healthcare workers at the present time.
Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have also received their first shipments of the vaccine’s initial dose. Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, the infectious disease chair at Cottage Health, estimated that Santa Barbara County would get about 3,900 doses, and said Cottage Health was hoping to get 975 of them to their front-line workers.
“There are several top-priority areas around our system that we want to focus on immediately, including places such as the emergency department, the COVID isolation units and our ICUs, among others,” Fitzgibbons said.
On Dec. 15, the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department announced it was getting 1,950 doses, which it will distribute to front-line health care workers. At the same time, it announced that people working in long-term care facilities should get their first doses by the end of the month.
“There is light at the end of this tunnel. A vaccine will be here soon,” Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obisipo county’s health officer, said in a news release. “A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most important tools for ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Widespread vaccine distribution for the public is still months away, though, according to Rigoberto Vargas, Ventura County’s public health director. He estimated at the Dec. 16 news conference that the earliest the vaccine will be available for the public will be April, or perhaps May, and urged people to take as many precautions as they can help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Because of the current rate of spread in the county, and how heavily the pandemic is hitting area hospitals and ICUs, Vargas estimated that it will take much longer than the governor’s initial three-week period before shutdown orders in the county would be lifted.
“I urge Ventura County residents to do all that they know is needed to flatten the curve,” Vargas said.