Healthcare officials across Arizona high-fived, cheered, elbow-bumped and even shed tears of gratitude as the first doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered on Tuesday, Dec. 22. “This is a great way to end the year,” said Dr. Kristina Kezar, M.D., from Verde Valley Medical Center. “What a Christmas gift for me and the safety of my family and the community. I’m ecstatic. I’m honored.”
Moments earlier, Flagstaff Medical Center Critical Care Nurse Stacey Payne, R.N. received the vaccine in Flagstaff. “I am so excited,” she said. “I feel like our whole planet is coming together to give us hope to get out of this. I just really hope this will turn things around for us.”
The vaccination arrived in Central and Northern Arizona as hospital officials around the state continued to juggle capacity and staffing issues. At Yavapai Regional Medical Center, the number of patients in dedicated COVID-19 units continued to rise at both campuses.
YRMC spokesperson Kenneth Boush says hospital staff members are “exhausted” and have had to adapt daily to meet the ongoing demand of treatment. In late December, YRMC-Prescott was at 105% capacity; the Prescott Valley location was at 112%. There were 10 total COVID units between the two hospitals by Dec. 23.
“We are in historical territory here,” Boush said. “We’ve never seen this kind of patient flow come through our hospitals.”
Normally, both hospitals are set up to care for about 185 patients total. The hospital staff has repurposed units to add more beds. Many staff members have worked overtime for the past 10 months to help meet the demand for care.
However, the arrival of the Moderna vaccine created noticeable optimism among healthcare workers for the New Year. Northern Arizona
Healthcare Chief Quality Officer Dr. John Mougin said the Moderna vaccine is a messenger RNA vaccine. “It’s not actually virus. It is a vaccine that induces cells in your body to produce a protein called the spike protein. Your body then recognizes the spike protein as something that’s not supposed to be there and creates an immune reaction against that. Then, if you are exposed to the virus in the future, your body will recognize that quickly as being something it needs to get rid of, and that creates the immunity.”
Yavapai County Community Health Services spokesperson Terri Farneti said she expected to receive another delivery of the vaccine before the end of 2020, with pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS able to begin vaccinating the general public soon.
Health officials say the Moderna vaccine is easier to store and has a longer shelf life than the Pfizer vaccine. Both require two doses that need to be administered about a month apart to ensure full vaccination. The Arizona Department of Health will be informed each week of how many doses to expect. It will allot those, by county, based on the percentage of residents in a priority group. Distribution information will be reported back to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At YRMC, all elective, or non-urgent, inpatient and outpatient procedures have been put on hold since Dec. 21, because of the rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. “This was a difficult decision, but one that is necessary due to high COVID-19 admission rates at our hospitals,” said YRMC Chief Operating Officer Keith Nichols. “By pausing outpatient and inpatient hospital procedures, we manage bed capacity and staffing levels to care for the high patient volumes we are experiencing.”
Despite the busy hospitals, Boush said he doesn’t want to discourage anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to seek medical treatment. “Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center is well-prepared to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “Anyone in need of care, especially emergency care, should not hesitate to seek the care they need.”
Meantime, health officials stress the continued importance of hand washing, masks and social distancing. QCBN
By Brent Ruffner and Bonnie Stevens, QCBN