Health care workers get first doses as vaccine arrives
An intensive care nurse and a cardiologist were the first health care workers in Georgetown County to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Ashley Griffith and Dr. Victor Diaz-Gonzalez said they were happy to set an example for their co-workers, families and community, after receiving the vaccine Wednesday at Waccamaw Community Hospital.
“I think it’s so important to get vaccinated because there are so many people that are carrying it around and don’t even realize it,” Griffith said. “I see the people that it’s affecting in the ICU. It’s so important to get vaccinated so we can all get immunity and have this pandemic end.”
“I’m looking forward to the majority of the people hopefully getting this vaccine so we can get over this soon,” Diaz-Gonzalez said. “This is the way to overcome the pandemic, to vaccinate people, to develop immunity.”
“This is the first chance we get to go on offense,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs for Tidelands Health. “Now we get to fight back. Not only are we treating those who are infected, now we’re preventing the virus from even getting inside our system. We’re building an armor-plating that lets that virus not get in.”
South Carolina received 42,900 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine this week. Tidelands Health received 975 for Waccamaw and 500 for Georgetown Memorial Hospital.
“It gives me self-confidence that I’m going to be developing immunity, hopefully within the next 10 days,” Diaz-Gonzalez said. “I don’t think it’s going to change the issues of having to wear a mask or protective personal equipment or social distancing until the large volume [of people] is vaccinated and the numbers are down.”
Tidelands vaccinated and monitored a small group of front-line health employees on Wednesday, and is hosting a vaccination clinic today.
“The vaccine has gone through extensive clinical trials, it’s been evaluated at the CDC and FDA level, and found safe and effective,” Diaz-Gonzalez said. “I feel completely confident in the safety of the vaccine.”
Harmon, who plans to get vaccinated, called it an early Christmas present.
“We’re having some COVID fatigue,” Harmon said. “Every day you’re not sure how many patients you’re going to have to deal with. You’re not sure of the next curveball you’re going to be thrown by the COVID virus pandemic. It’s tiring for us.”
The vaccine will only be given to health care workers for now, and on a voluntary basis. Tidelands does not plan to make the vaccinations mandatory for employees.
“We strongly encourage our health care workers to get this vaccine. It’s part of protection, not only for our health care but for our patients,” Harmon said. “Right now this is an emergency-use authorization. It’s not a standard flu vaccine that’s been around literally for decades. This is the first time we’re using it in our facility. Ethically I have a hard time mandating something that’s just been developed.”
The state expects to receive about 250,000 doses of the vaccine before the end of the year.
Harmon said as the vaccine becomes available to the general public and “herd immunity” grows, he could see restrictions easing on businesses, schools and gatherings by mid-summer.
“Until then we’re still going to have to wear the mask, even after we’ve been immunized, [maintain] our social distance and wash our hands,” he added.