The first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have been given to health care workers at Southwest Health System, nearly nine months after the first COVID-19 case was identified in Montezuma County.
“It’s exciting,” said Dr. Ben Carelock, who was among the first health care workers to receive the vaccine. “It’s not just about me not getting sick, it’s me not getting someone else sick.”
Note: Southwest Health System is an underwriter of KSJD.
Pfzier’s vaccine received federal approval Friday, prompting a massive logistical campaign to distribute the first batch of doses across the United States. As the first few hundred doses arrive in southwestern Colorado, health officials also await federal approval of a vaccine developed by Moderna.
Carelock, a podiatrist and the chief of staff at SHS, said being among the first to take the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a civic duty in encouraging others to do the same. He added that he trusts the scientists behind the vaccine and the scrutiny that goes toward its creation.
SHS CEO Tony Sudduth celebrated the vaccine’s arrival but remains concerned about having enough community support in taking the vaccine to end the pandemic.
“It’s a little bit of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Sudduth said. “But it’s totally contiguous on getting the buy-in from the community.”
In Phase 1A of Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan, health care workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients will be among the first to be inoculated, along with staff and residents of long-term care facilities, like nursing homes. Other health care workers will follow in the coming months as additional doses are distributed, along with other frontline workers and those who have a higher risk of developing a severe COVID-19 case.
Widespread vaccination for the general public isn’t expected until late spring or early summer. In the meantime, Carelock echoes health officials across the country in urging residents to continue following health orders.
“Please, please wear your mask and wash your hands,” Carelock said. “It makes a difference. It helps us.”
The vaccine’s arrival comes as an ongoing surge of coronavirus infections spreads throughout the Four Corners. The Montezuma County Public Health Department reported three more deaths Wednesday, bringing the county to 13 deaths among cases. 601 active cases make up about 58% of all cases reported since March, which surpassed 1,000 this week.
“Maintain precautions for a few more months and we’ll all get through it. That’s really what we’re looking for,” Sudduth said.
Last week, MCPHD Director Bobbi Lock said the spread of the virus has made contact tracing ineffective. Department staff will instead concentrate on notifying people who test positive and providing isolation instructions but will rely on the infected person themselves to inform close contacts of possible exposure.
“Contact tracing is a very effective public health prevention tool when the disease spread is not as prevalent as we have in our county,” Lock wrote in an email to KSJD News. “This decision is not based on staffing capacity, it is based on effectiveness or ineffectiveness of prevention measures in our county.”