As COVID cases continue to surge and more and more people we know are suffering from its effects, we welcomed news of vaccines being available to frontline workers, and possibly everyone else in the coming months. I caught up with Dr. Philip Robinson, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Hoag, to learn more.
Q: When did you get the vaccine, and what was that experience like – emotional or routine?
A: I received my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17, 2020 at Hoag. The only side effect I experienced was soreness at the injection site for about 48 hours. It is amazing to think that within a year we have gone from discovering a new virus to having a safe and effective vaccine. Thinking about this historic milestone during my vaccination made me very proud of our science and research community across the globe. It also gave me a feeling of hopefulness that we will finally get the upper hand on this pandemic, and I started to look forward to returning to more normal times.
Q: How many Hoag workers have received it so far, and how long will it take to get the rest of the medical staff vaccinated?
A: At Hoag, our vaccine clinics for our highest risk clinical staff are underway. By the end of this week, more than 3,000 of our clinical and medical staff will have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We are adhering to the strict guidelines set by the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) and will follow their phased approach as we work our way through our employee and medical staff populations.
Q: What would you say to someone who doesn’t want to get the vaccine?
A: The vaccines have been tested for safety and efficacy, just as they would in a standard process. One of the reasons these COVID-19 vaccines are able to move through the clinical trial process so quickly is due to increased government funding. This has helped researchers proceed with multiple steps in the drug development and testing process at the same time, rather than slowly over time. The novel coronavirus, which leads to COVID-19, is twice as contagious as influenza, the virus that causes the flu. For the flu vaccine to protect the population, it needs to be 30 to 40 percent effective. For a coronavirus vaccine to stamp out an outbreak, it only needs to be 50 to 60 percent effective. So, a vaccine that is greater than 90 percent effective is incredibly promising. My hope is that if enough people get the vaccine, we could put an end to this pandemic.
Q: How is Hoag handling the current uptick in cases?
A: As we experience the latest COVID-19 surge, which mirrors what we are seeing at the county, state and national level, Hoag physicians, nurses and staff are working diligently to care for all of our patients. We have surge plans in place and options available to us as this situation evolves. Currently, we have canceled elective surgeries to reduce the strain due to an increase in patient volume, allowing us to keep beds open. If needed, we could close specific services and reallocate those beds for acute patients to allow more access for COVID-19 patients. We have surge tents set up outside our Emergency Departments to help with triage and treatment of patients seeking care. We also have the option to utilize any of the county facilities that they have made available for stable patient transfers.
Q: Do you have any sense of what is in store for our community this winter, or when we might see normalcy again?
A: We are in the middle of a surge that will continue into the coming weeks. We ask the community to support our efforts by taking necessary measures – masking, social distancing and staying home. This commitment and effort by everyone will help to slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect the community’s most vulnerable populations, reduce the impact on our health care resources, and keep our valued staff and their families well. A vaccine that protects the majority of the population from contracting the disease will spell the end of this pandemic. The ongoing vaccine distribution, which will reach additional populations beyond the health care environments in the coming months, is the light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine will be rolled out in phases, based on guidelines from the CDC, CDPH and OCHCA. OCHCA is directing the phased distribution here in Orange County. You can see those details here: https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/phased-approach-vaccine-distribution.
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