A basement room at Providence Holy Family Hospital bustled with energy and masked smiles on Friday morning as some Spokane County residents received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, a sign of hope for weary health care workers and residents alike.
A little more than a year after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state and the country, residents at higher risk of developing severe disease due to their age are now eligible to be vaccinated.
Randy Albright was among the group of those who got poked in the 9 o’clock hour.
“I feel great,” he said, noting the shot itself was painless.
After receiving their shots, people were directed to the far end of the room to sit in spaced chairs . Because the vaccines are only authorized for emergency use, people must be monitored for adverse reactions for at least 15 minutes after receiving their shots.
Some people took selfies to send to their families, while others sat quietly. Despite masks covering their smiles, the mood was cheery.
Albright, who is 73 and retired, said he has been able to stay isolated in the last year and never tested positive for the virus. He misses playing the keyboard with his band, Stagecoach West, he said. The pandemic meant canceling about 40 gigs.
With his first dose done and the second one scheduled in another month, Albright is hopeful that maybe the band can get back together this summer.
Providence set up the three-day pop-up vaccine clinic to adhere to the governor’s new requirement for vaccine distributors to administer doses on hand by Sunday.
The Holy Family clinic filled up quickly after Providence put out a notice to its patients and a large list of doctor offices in the community who have patients who fit into the current eligibility guidelines. About 1,400 people will get their first doses if all goes as planned by the end of Saturday. On Thursday, when the clinic opened, 400 people got their first doses, and everyone with an appointment showed up.
Adam Richards, who directs emergency services at Holy Family and Sacred Heart, has been in the thick of surge planning, assessing the worst-case scenarios for months at both hospitals and supporting teams of tired nurses treating dozens of COVID-19 patients at a time in the last year.
On Friday, however, Richards got to experience a glimmer of hope.
He said throughout the pandemic, health care workers and systems have been reacting to the virus, but getting vaccines out to people feels different.
“It’s an actual, very tangible thing that gives me hope – it’s something I can do to save someone’s life,” he said.
Robin and Michael Toth got vaccinated together on Friday morning at the pop-up clinic.
They are Providence patients and signed up online when they received notice. The Spokane Valley couple was relieved to get vaccinated, they said.
Robin Toth, who is working from home, is 65 and now qualifies for the vaccine under the expanded eligibility guidelines issued earlier this week. All Washington residents 65 and over, as well as those 50 and older who live in multigenerational households, are eligible for the vaccine.
She said it’s “bittersweet” being eligible, since she knows others also need to be vaccinated.
For health care providers, though, getting shots in arms is the goal, and more vaccinated people means inching closer to the potential end of the pandemic.
“If you have a chance to get it, just get it,” Dr. Tom Schaaf, medical director for home and community care, said Friday.
He was vaccinating people at the pop-up clinic all morning and said he was thankful that Providence had the infrastructure to pivot and open the clinic as quickly as they did this week.
“People feel the light at the end of the tunnel,” Schaaf said. “They’ve been struggling for so long.”
Providence Medical Group is holding a few other vaccine clinics for patients, although those have filled up quickly. There are not other clinics scheduled for now, until they know when they will receive more vaccines.
Vaccine supply is short, and with more than a million residents eligible for the vaccine and far fewer doses than that coming into the state each week, public health officials and health care providers are asking people to be patient. Moving forward, vaccine distributors will have to use 95% of their allocated doses in the first week after receiving them, so the availability will likely continue to move fast.
Health officials are asking residents to contact their health care providers to get on lists in order to be notified of future clinics. Additionally, a mass vaccination site will open next week at the Spokane Arena to serve the community.
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