Dr. Roger Hicks: What’s the latest with COVID vaccines?
We ushered in 2021 in the midst of a huge surge of new cases of COVID-19 with rising death tolls and many hospitals stretched to their limits. The situation was bleak. At the same time, the first COVID vaccines were being given in Nevada County, giving us a glimmer of hope at the beginning of a new year. So, what is the update from the medical community?
I’m happy to say we have made significant progress here in Nevada County. We have offered COVID vaccine to all those in the highest priority categories: healthcare providers, residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities and other congregate living facilities, as well as law enforcement and fire personnel. In addition, we have started to vaccinate our senior citizens.
Admittedly, the vaccine rollout has been rocky so far, much slower than any of us would like. It has been that way because vaccine supplies are still very limited, and because there was no national plan on how to distribute and administer vaccine once it was manufactured.
But a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and with more than 13,000 of our fellow Nevada County citizens vaccinated so far, we are now well beyond our first step. There are just over 100,000 of us in Nevada County, so you could say we’ve gone 130 miles of our 1,000 mile journey. Clearly, we still have a long way to go, and the same percentage of us is vaccinated – about 13% — as in California, and slightly more than the US as a whole.
The good news is there are a couple of ways in which Nevada County is ahead of the rest of California. For example, we have vaccinated our educators. Through a cooperative effort involving our school nurses, Nevada Union High School, and the Nevada County Public Health department, more than 1,000 of those who work in western county schools were vaccinated at Nevada Union at the end of January. The vaccine was offered to everyone who comes in contact with students, from teachers to custodians to administrative staff. In another collaborative effort, more than 700 people who work in eastern county schools were vaccinated by Tahoe Forest Hospital at Sierra College in Truckee. Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay stated he was pleased that so many of the staff offered the vaccine have already received it — more than 70%, a rate that is unusually high for school districts in California. This vaccination effort makes the task of reopening our schools much easier and safer for everyone involved. Eight of our nine school districts now have in-person learning, as do two of five charter schools. Distance learning has been difficult for many, not only for our children for whom school is vital for social development, but also for working parents, households with poor internet and so many more reasons. This is a big step forward toward getting life back to normal.
Nevada County is also ahead of the curve in that we are in the first of four waves of counties implementing the new MyTurn vaccine scheduling tool. This program allows people to be notified when it’s their turn to get vaccinated and to schedule their appointments. Anyone can sign up at MyTurn.ca.gov; those without internet can call 211 or 1-833-422-4255. MyTurn is also supposed to make things easier for those of us who administer the vaccines. It will facilitate scheduling patients as well as help with the required reporting of who received the vaccine and the inventory left at the end of each day. Right now, the only vaccine provider who has access is our Nevada County Public Health Department, but it will be available soon to all other providers. In addition to MyTurn, you can get text updates on vaccine eligibility in Nevada County by texting VACCINEINFO to 898211.
It will take continued community partnerships to vaccinate everyone who wants one. Working together, county agencies, businesses, and individuals are making more options available. In cooperation with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, the Hospital Foundation, and Smarter Broadband, Nevada County has opened a vaccine clinic at the Whispering Pines Business Park. According to Public Health Director Jill Blake, there are systems, staff and infrastructure in place to vaccinate over a thousand people a week at this site when enough vaccine becomes available. Another site is ready to open at the Truckee Tahoe airport when vaccine supply increases. CVS and Walgreens have been visiting our skilled nursing facilities, where they have offered vaccine to residents and staff. Several local medical clinics, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies are also administering vaccine, so check with yours to see if this is an option for you.
Note that all vaccinations are given by appointment only and appointments are dependent upon vaccine availability. In other words, don’t just show up and expect to be vaccinated. Due to the limited supply, Nevada County is now focusing on vaccinating people 65 and older, as well as the remaining health care workers and first responders. However, because 30% of our residents are senior citizens — twice the state average — we’re hoping that the county will get more vaccine per capita sooner than other counties.
As a health care provider, I’ve had both my doses of vaccine. I had a sore arm after each shot and felt tired for a couple of days after the second one. But like my colleagues and patients who have been vaccinated, the main thing I felt was a great sense of relief. Both of the vaccines currently available in the US — the Pfizer and the Moderna — are extremely effective in preventing COVID-19. The disease can have serious, even life-threatening complications, and many people have symptoms that persist long after they are over the acute illness. If you do get COVID, there is no way to know how it will affect you, your family or your friends. Becoming infected does offer some natural protection against re-infection, but you risk severe or prolonged illness, even death. The vaccine protects you and those around you without having to experience sickness.
My advice is to get vaccinated at your earliest opportunity. To me, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are like Coke and Pepsi — so similar it does not matter which you get. Like every other vaccine, COVID vaccines are not 100% effective in every individual. We need somewhere between 70% to 90% of us to be vaccinated to stop the disease and achieve community immunity. The CDC predicts that will happen sometime between end of August and the beginning of November, assuming there is enough vaccine and that it will eventually made available to children. Until then, you know the drill! We need to continue the preventive measures we know so well: keep your space, stay in place, and cover your face.
Dr. Roger Hicks is the Medical Director for Yubadocs Urgent Care in Grass Valley and the founding president and current Director of the California Urgent Care Association.
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