The VA hospital in North Las Vegas, along with most acute-care hospitals in the valley, began to inoculate frontline health care workers against COVID-19 on Wednesday as part of the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history.
Remiko Ross, a 40-year-old radiology technologist, was among the staff at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hospital getting a shot of the Pfizer vaccine in the morning.
She said she got the shot, which is voluntary, not despite the safety concerns some people have about getting vaccinated but because of them.
“I decided to get it because of the stigma around it,” she said. “And I wanted to be an example to my peers and people in my community so that they can see that it’s OK, and hopefully get it themselves.”
Ross got her shot in the minutes before a news conference where two hospital physicians, Drs. Jason Dazley and Myron Kung, spoke about the safety of the vaccine and the need to dispel myths, such as that a person can contract the virus from the vaccine.
They may have their work cut out for them. A series of surveys of staff have shown interest in getting the vaccine increasing to 55 percent from 40 percent, Dazley said, as concerns have been addressed through podcasts and other forms of communication. Still, that means that nearly half the staff remains skeptical.
Christopher Thomas, who got his shot in the morning, did not need convincing. Thomas, 49, who works in mental health peer support, has lost both a co-worker and a client to COVID-19. He shared with the client an interest in both history and Motown music, and they’d made plans to see some live music together.
“We had huge plans, you know, and then all of a sudden, he took a turn for the worse and he was gone,” Thomas said, his eyes filling with tears.
“We need to all pull together as one to move forward,” Thomas said about getting the vaccine.
Hospital executive director William Caron said that the past nine months have been both exhausting and challenging, adding, “I’ve also seen the best come out in our staff.”
The VA hospital has received an initial allocation of 975 doses of vaccine, he said. Adhering to guidance from both federal and state authorities, frontline health care workers at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 are receiving the vaccine first.
Vaccine is being distributed according to a tiered system and is currently available only to frontline health care workers followed by staff and residents at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.
Most public health authorities have said the vaccine isn’t expected to be available to the general public before the spring or early summer.
The St. Rose Dominican, Sunrise Health System and Valley Health System hospitals in the Las Vegas Valley also began administering the vaccine on Wednesday.
The first hospital in Nevada to receive vaccine was University Medical Center in Las Vegas, which began vaccinating its staff on Monday. By the end of Wednesday, the hospital expected to have vaccinated more than 1,000 staffers as well as community physicians who treat patients at UMC.