Flagstaff health care workers receive first vaccines
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Americans will ring in the New Year this week with more hope on the horizon in the nation’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
On Dec. 22, Northern Arizona Healthcare, the parent company of Williams’ closest hospital, Flagstaff Medical Center, received its first allotment of a COVID-19 vaccine to administer to its health care workers.
The arrival and subsequent first rounds of distribution among healthcare workers was celebrated by many and hailed as the beginning of the end of a health care crisis that has gripped the world since early 2020 Stacy Payne, a critical care nurse at FMC, was the first to receive the vaccine at the facility.
“I’m so excited because this reflects one of our main values, which is better together,” said Payne “I feel like this is our whole planet coming together, science coming together to give us hope to get out of this, so it’s so exciting, and I just really hope that this will turn things around for us. I’m so honored to be here today.”
Health care workers are under more strain than ever as Arizona’s seven-day new-case average ranks third-highest in the nation. Only California and Tennessee have higher rates over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker.
The Arizona data dashboard revealed that 91 percent of all ICU beds and 90 percent of all inpatient beds in the state were in use Dec. 27, with 57 percent of ICU beds and 52 percent of non-ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Nick Schumacher, a nurse practitioner at FMC, said staff members have been eagerly waiting for the vaccine since the early days of the pandemic.
“I’m actually really, really excited that it’s happening as quickly as it is,” he said. “I think we owe our thanks to the entire community that has helped to develop and distribute these vaccinations. I think this really is our best chance at getting a leg up and really knocking back this horrible pandemic.”
In Williams, the city has seen a recent increase in cases that correlate with data from the rest of the state. Numbers have risen since the beginning of December which has been attributed to family gatherings around the holidays:
Dec. 1, six confirmed positive cases in the city, and 17 in the 86046 zip code (including Williams);
Dec. 7, there were 11 cases in the city, 30 in the zip code;
Dec. 21, there were 31 cases in the city and 40 in the zip code; and
Dec. 28, there were 18 in the city and 37 in the zip code.
Following guidelines set by the state, Coconino County plans to initially distribute the vaccine to healthcare personnel and long term care facility residents and staff.
Vaccinations of those groups is underway.
On Dec. 29, health officials announced that people 75 and older, will join teachers, child care providers, law enforcement personnel and corrections workers in the second phase of the vaccine distribution.
The state anticipates that second-phase vaccinations will begin statewide by late January but some counties may begin earlier, the statement said
Once those groups are vaccinated, officials will move to include essential workers — those involved with education, food and agriculture, transportation, childcare, energy service, water and wastewater and law enforcement.
Following those workers, the next group will include high risk individuals and those aged 65 and over.
As health care workers received the vaccine at FMC, staff at Verde Valley Medical Center also received the first doses of the vaccine.
Pulmonologist Dr. Doug Mapel was one of the first to receive the vaccine at that location.
He said he had participated in a number of prior vaccine studies and said the efficacy of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was excellent.
“Although the safety data is only short-term safety, that has been excellent as well,” Mapel said. “The long-term studies are coming, but we can’t wait for the long-term studies. If we wait much longer, hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and million worldwide will die. The sooner we get everyone on board and vaccinated, the faster we can get past this and back to normal life.”
As the vaccine for COVID-19 has become a reality, not all Americans are ready to jump in line for when the vaccine becomes available, yet polls have revealed that confidence levels are rising.
Polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation show the portion of people interested in taking the vaccine has grown from about 50 percent this summer to more than 60 percent, with the Kaiser Family Foundation reporting 71 percent — a number that approaches what some health officials say can produce herd immunity.
The Kaiser poll also shows that about a quarter of the public remains vaccine hesitant, saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists. Vaccine hesitancy is highest among Republicans (42 percent), those ages 30-49 (36 percent), and rural residents (35 percent).
Among those who are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the main reasons are worries about possible side effects (59 percent cite this as a major reason), lack of trust in the government to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness (55 percent), concerns that the vaccine is too new (53 percent), and concerns over the role of politics in the development process (51 percent).