Vaccinations begin for firefighters and skilled nursing facilities, continue at hospitals

Firefighters get vaccinated at Watsonville Hospital on Tuesday.

More Santa Cruz County residents were vaccinated Tuesday from groups in the high priority Phase 1a of the California distribution plan: first responders, and staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities.

Here’s what we know about Tuesday’s developments on the vaccine front:

Matthew Haut from Santa Cruz Fire along with nurse Pamela Price pose before Matthew receives his injection.
Matthew Haut from Santa Cruz Fire along with Nurse Leader Pamela Price pose before Matthew receives his injection.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Firefighters to be vaccinated by Jan. 7

Watsonville Community Hospital is facilitating the vaccination of all the county’s fire agencies, a total of about 400 people. The effort was kicked off Tuesday with the inoculation of 77 firefighters and first responders.

County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said the plan is for all firefighters and first responders in the county to have been offered a first dose of the vaccine by next Thursday.

Syringe to arm
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
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Nursing facilities underway

On the other side of the county, another happy scene unfolded as staff and residents of Santa Cruz Post Acute Rehabilitation Center received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

This facility has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, with 16 residents dying of the virus, so being among the first places to receive the vaccine was not taken lightly.

“It’s exciting,” said Rusty Greiner, the administrator of the facility.

Skilled nursing and assisted living facilities are mostly receiving vaccines through the Pharmacy Partnership Program, a collaboration between the CDC and pharmacy chains to distribute vaccines directly to these facilities.

The California Department of Public Health told Lookout in a statement that approximately 90% of skilled nursing facilities and 65% of assisted living facilities have signed up for the federal program. Santa Cruz Post Acute is one of them, and CVS staff administered their vaccines Tuesday.

For those that did not sign up for this program, CDPH said “local health departments in partnership with the local facility will make a determination about the distribution and administration of vaccines for the facility.”

Deborah Pacyna, director of Public Affairs for the California Association of Health Facilities, said via email that “all skilled nursing facility residents and workers (not assisted living) are included in the first priority round, and that “The only contraindication would be for residents who are currently suffering from COVID, (they must wait 90 days after to be vaccinated ) or the flu or a cold, or another condition that precludes them from getting the vaccine based on their physician’s recommendation.”

Every facility participating in the Pharmacy Partnership Program will have three vaccination clinics, Pacyna said, one each to deliver the first and second dose, and a third to catch anyone who was missed the first time.

Hospitals make further progress

Santa Cruz County hospital staff have been under severe strain during the COVID-19 surge, and vaccinations have been one of the only rays of hope.

Matko Varjes, an assistant administrator at Watsonville Community Hospital, said that 65% of their 650-person staff have already received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A spokesperson for Dominican Hospital reported they have vaccinated approximately 1,600 employees and affiliated physicians to date. They said Dominican has “already vaccinated all the active frontline health care workers who wished to receive the vaccine at this time, and are now working through the remaining tiers of staff.”

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