Cesario Castillo was the fourth person in the county to get the vaccine.
(Shmuel Thaler / Pool photographer / Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Vaccine Watch

Thankful for ‘the PPE inside of me’: First COVID vaccines here evoke emotional responses

Toni Luckett, an RN at Dominican Hospital, was the first person in Santa Cruz County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cesario Castillo couldn’t hide his emotions after becoming the fourth person in Santa Cruz County to get the COVID-19 vaccination on Wednesday.

Vaccine Watch

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From behind his face covering, the lead housekeeper at Dominican said he felt like he now had an extra layer of personal protective equipment to keep both him and others safe.

“I feel so excited, so blessed for that shot,” Castillo said. “We can’t take any chances. We need to protect ourselves and the loved ones around us. For the service we provide to others, and being around them, it feels so great to have this extra PPE inside of me.”

At 11:21 a.m. Dominican Hospital nurse Toni Luckett was the first person in Santa Cruz County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Luckett had a message for others like her anxiously awaiting the vaccine.

“It’s on the way, be patient, there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Let’s do what we need to do to keep our loved ones safe. We’ll get there. We’ve just all got to be patient and work together.”

The first round of 1,950 vaccine doses arrived Tuesday morning in the county and were delivered to Dominican and Watsonville Community Hospital yesterday afternoon. Luckett was the first of hundreds of ICU and emergency department health care workers who are set to receive the vaccine this week.

Toni Luckett
Dominican Hospital nurse Toni Luckett on Wednesday becomes the first person in Santa Cruz County to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
(Shmuel Thaler / Pool photo / Santa Cruz Setinel)

Luckett was asked about those who might be apprehensive about the vaccine. She said she understood, that she has family members who are reluctant. But as a frontline worker in a pandemic, she doesn’t believe anyone should be thinking twice.

“This is the first step of us all getting our lives back together,” she said. “Our economy and just saving our lives. We must do it. We can’t be afraid of it. Be afraid of COVID. It’ll kill you.”

Health care workers began receiving the vaccine roughly two hours later at nearby Watsonville Community Hospital.

Dr. David Claypool, an ER physician at the hospital, was among the first handful of employees to receive a dose.

Claypool said he had reviewed the data and was impressed by the efficacy compared to influenza vaccines. “This is a very effective vaccine,” Claypool said.

Once vaccinated, Claypool said health care workers will have more “breathing room” to treat all patients amid a pandemic, not just those positive for COVID-19.

“So if there is a mistake if somebody comes in with an ankle sprain and is asymptomatic, but finds out later they have COVID, we’ll be relatively protected.”

Respiratory therapist Travis Stevens was also among the first to receive the vaccine at the Watsonville hospital. Stevens said he has lived in constant worry he would carry the virus home to his children and 89-year-old grandmother since the start of the pandemic. “There’s this anxiety and nightmares I’ve had that I’m going to get them sick,” he said.

Now, he said he feels at least some sense of relief, though he has no plans to let his guard down. “It will make me feel at ease when I come to work, working with the public who do have COVID,” he said.

Castillo, the housekeeper at Dominican, said for him the vaccine is the shield he needs to feel safer.

“I feel blessed to take this vaccine first,” he said. “People must feel nervous to not take it. If we say we love our families, we love our kids, we must protect ourselves. It’s best for everyone. Why take any chances?”

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