Credit: File photo

San Luis Obispo County administered their first COVID-19 vaccines to health care professionals Thursday and Friday. 

“Is this an exciting day or what?” Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said. 

The County Public Health Department has received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and they expect about 4,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to arrive next week, Borenstein said. 

Five first responders received the vaccine in the Public Health Department parking lot Friday Dec. 18, with local hemodialysis nurse Marla Howard among the recipients. 

“I’m just so darn excited to be getting this vaccine today,” Howard said. “I want to get on with living and stop all the death.” 

Alec Flatos, a fire engineer and paramedic for the San Luis Obispo Fire Department, was the first firefighter to receive a vaccine yesterday. 

“I’m going to be able to better protect our community with this vaccine. I’m also going to better protect my family and my loved ones,” Flatos said. “Unequivocally this is the right decision for us to make.”

On Thursday Dec. 17, the county distributed vaccines to local hospitals to vaccinate front-line health care workers. Hospitals have given about 200 vaccines to health care workers so far, Borenstein said.

The vaccine will be delivered in phases. First, the county public health department will vaccinate health care workers and those in nursing homes. 

Next, they will vaccinate people older than 65-years-old, those who are immunocompromised and essential workers. 

Finally, the vaccine will be available to the general public, which Borenstein expects will be in late spring or summer of 2021. 

The vaccine arrives to the county as a powder, which must be refrigerated until administered. The powder is then diluted in a liquid, and given to the recipient, Borenstein said. 

Individuals have to wait 15 minutes until leaving the site of the vaccination to make sure they don’t experience severe side effects, such as trouble breathing, a rapid heartbeat, swelling in the face and throat, a full-body rash, dizziness or weakness, though these side effects are rare, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Side effects such as pain in the arm, redness or swelling are typical, Borenstein said.

“We feel confident that this is a very safe, and a very effective vaccine,” Borenstein said. 

Emergency physician at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center Dr. Matthew Williams was also one of the five recipients of the vaccine Friday. 

“I’ve seen firsthand the devastating toll that this pandemic had taken on individuals, their families and the community as a whole,” Williams said.

Cases are on the rise in the county. The county reported the most COVID-related deaths in a single day on Tuesday, and about 15% of ICU beds are in use by COVID-19 patients, with 19 ICU beds available in the county, according to the County Public Health Department

County hospital chiefs also sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo Tribune this week urging the community to take the virus seriously. 

“I don’t think this vaccine could have come at a more critical time,” Williams said. 

Williams said local medical professionals are confident in the vaccine. 

“Those of us on the front lines and in health care are completely supportive of this vaccine,” Williams said. “We all believe fully in it’s safety, its efficacy and its value.”

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