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Sonoma County health care workers get 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

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I got vaccinated for my 87-year-old mother. I love you, Mom!

I got vaccinated to protect those who can’t get it … and even those who won’t.

I got vaccinated so I can eat inside a restaurant. For going back to church. For the chance to find normal again.

These messages of joy, relief and hope (and occasional snark), handwritten on 8½ x 11 sheets, formed the wallpaper of a small conference room on the second floor of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, a space the hospital has converted into its primary COVID vaccination clinic.

Friday, about 120 Sutter doctors, nurses, technicians, cleaners and food servers received their second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. They now are expected to have roughly 95% immunity to the novel coronavirus that has packed the hospital’s beds, some of which are now set up in an overflow area that used to be a waiting room.

“It feels like a candle in a dark room,” said Dr. Gary M. Green, an infectious disease specialist at the Sutter Santa Rosa. “Because it’s a glimmer of hope in the middle of the second horrible surge, in a country that’s struggled with this the most.”

The notes began spontaneously, a few grateful health care professionals scribbling their emotions on sheets of paper after getting their first doses. Sutter Health administrators spotted an opportunity and printed out decorated sheets to accommodate the sentiments. Now dozens adorn the walls, created by people who see the shots as a step toward a future that looks more like the past, one devoid of cloth masks and shuttered schools.

A Sutter spokesperson said the Santa Rosa facility has doled out more than 1,100 first doses to employees. Friday was the first round of second doses — 30 micrograms of vaccine each, just like the initial round.

As of Friday, Sonoma County had overseen the administering of 9,453 doses of vaccine, a figure that includes shots given at local hospitals, but not those delivered in nursing homes by CVS and Walgreens.

Health officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Sonoma County has used more than 50% of its allotted vaccine doses. That’s well ahead of the California rate, which is slightly better than 25%. Responding to widespread frustration over the pace of the rollout, Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked state lawmakers to approve $300 million for vaccination logistics. On Friday, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said California wants to immunize 1 million people in the next 10 days.

The completion of Round 2, when it happens, won’t change any of Sutter Santa Rosa’s on-site safety protocols. But Karen Cauthen, director of the hospital’s emergency department, said it is likely to have one immediate effect: fewer sick days. Workers there have been so worried about bringing the virus to their colleagues, and to vulnerable patients, that they have approached even slight exposure risks with extreme caution. More staff at home on any given day has meant added burdens for those on the job.

Mostly, though, the byproduct of these inoculations is a tremendous sense of relief for the people on the front lines of the pandemic.

Kathy Harnden, a Sutter ICU nurse, is looking forward to holding her baby niece for the first time. The little girl, who lives in Sacramento, was born in June. “The biggest part for me is there’s a very good chance that I won’t be able pass it along to anyone else,” Harnden said. “That’s what’s so weird about this. You can be asymptomatic completely and you don’t know that you’re passing it along to another person.”

After getting the first dose of Pfizer, each Sutter employee received an email reminding them they must get the second shot within a window of 17 to 21 days. Links embedded in the email allowed them to schedule Round 2 with a couple of clicks.

Green said the overwhelming majority of Sutter Santa Rosa’s staff has willingly accepted the vaccines. Harnden agreed. The ICU nurse said most of her co-workers were on the fence when the first vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, hit the U.S. market following an unprecedented fast-track operation. Now, she said, most are lining up for shots.

“After all the buildup you had, wondering what was going to happen and if the side effects would be more significant than anything else, it was no more significant than any vaccine I’ve had in my life,” said Dr. Rob Allen, a hospitalist at Sutter Santa Rosa.

Allen was seated in the middle of the clinic room along with a few others, obeying the mandatory 15-minute observation period for these vaccinations. The Sutter representative said only one Santa Rosa employee has experienced side effects worse than a bit of soreness in the arm, and symptoms were relatively mild even for that person.

If health care workers receiving the second doses of vaccine represent a major step in the right direction, Green is looking forward to another. He hopes Sutter Santa Rosa will be able to move into Phase 1B of the vaccination program, which includes seniors over 75 and essential workers like those in child care and agriculture, as soon as Jan. 14. In the nick of time, some would say.

“To have this happen right now,” Green said, “is just what everyone needs.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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