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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Our COVID-19 ending begins today’: Coronavirus vaccinations begin in Spokane

Nine months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Spokane County, health care workers are beginning to be vaccinated against the virus.

After a night shift performing pancreatic and kidney transplant surgery, Dr. Okechukwu Ojogho, a Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center transplant physician, became the first person in Spokane to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“As a physician of color, I’m very, very well aware of how this virus has devastated our community,” Ojogho said just before getting the shot Friday. “This vaccine is giving us real hope that’s going to lift our spirits and help us defeat this virus. I really encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

Afterward, he declared the shot “very painless” with a thumbs up.

The vaccine was administered by Providence Executive Vice President and Regional Chief Executive Elaine Couture.

“Every single health care giver, whether you’re working in housekeeping, whether you’re working in pharmacy, respiratory therapy, laboratorians, physicians, the list can go on an on, have been there when we have seen some of our patients’ darkest nights,” Couture said. “Today, this gift … is a beacon of hope, and it’s a hope that next year is going to be a much better year and we are going to return to how we all experienced life in the past.”

Just before the vaccination in the hospital’s Mother Joseph Room, Sacred Heart’s Chief Mission Officer Becky Nappi reflected briefly on the founding of the hospital.

“Let us remember today our pioneer sisters, who cared for people during outbreaks of typhus and cholera, the Spanish flu and polio. Let us remember our pioneering scientists throughout our country who toiled in labs, researching, testing,” she said. “And it led us here today to this historic moment where we are vaccinating our fearless and first frontline caregivers, vaccinating them against COVID-19, a virus that oppressed us and pursued us for nearly one year. Not just us, but our entire world.”

More high-risk health care workers at Providence were expected to be vaccinated throughout the day.

Kootenai Health also began vaccinating its frontline workers on Friday morning and planned to vaccinate nearly 200 employees by the end of the day. By the end of the weekend, the Coeur d’Alene hospital expects to vaccinate about 350 providers.

Dr. Todd Hopman, a critical care physician at Kootenai Health, was one of the first health care providers to be vaccinated.

“I am here today as one of the first recipients to show my colleagues, my co-workers and my community that I believe in this vaccine and the importance of being vaccinated in order to see the day when the COVID-19 pandemic has ended,” Hoopman said in a news release. “In turn, I ask for your trust in this process and I ask for your trust in me. My responsibility as a physician is to promote health, provide healing and alleviate suffering. COVID-19 has created too much suffering for our community and those around the United States and the world. Our COVID-19 ending begins today.”

Kootenai Health received around 1,370 vaccines in its first shipment, and more doses should arrive in the coming weeks. Kootenai Health plans to vaccinate all frontline staff members who want to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is estimated to be 95% effective at preventing infection about a week after the second dose.

Providence Health is the only provider in Spokane County to receive doses of the vaccine so far. This week, Providence received 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultracold temperatures. High-risk health care workers, including but not limited to emergency department and intensive care unit workers, respiratory therapists and hospitalists, will be vaccinated as supplies last and continue to come into the county.

The 3,900 doses will be administered to 3,900 people, as the vaccine must be given in two doses, 21 days apart.

Washington health officials have prioritized high-risk health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff to be the first vaccinated in the state.

This weekend, the Federal Drug Administration authorized a second vaccine for emergency use made by Moderna, and shipments to states could begin next week.

Additional shipments of the Pfizer vaccine are expected next week, although there will be less than initially planned.

While hospital workers begin to get vaccinated, their colleagues are still in the thick of a COVID-19 surge in the Inland Northwest.

On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 347 new cases, as well as 10 additional deaths. The outbreak at Airway Heights Corrections Center continues to infect staff and inmates, and one incarcerated person from there died at a local health care facility on Friday.

There are 116 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane hospitals, including 87 county residents.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 329 new cases on Friday, and one additional death. The critical care unit at Kootenai Health is crowded, with 29 COVID patients. There are 81 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus, and 75 of them are at Kootenai Health.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.