Saint Louise Regional Hospital’s Dr. Roger Chiou on Thursday became one of Santa Clara County’s recipients of the new Covid-19 vaccine.
More than a dozen of Chiou’s colleagues gathered to witness the historic and long-anticipated occasion as Clinical Nurse Liesel Short injected the first dose of the vaccine into the urgent care doctor’s left arm in a corridor of the Gilroy hospital.
The hallway erupted in applause as soon as Short removed the needle from Chiou’s arm.
Chiou said he felt “very grateful” to get one of South Bay’s first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Along with other frontline staff at St. Louise—a hospital that has played a role in acquiring, storing and delivering the vaccination—Chiou expressed hope that the moment would mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic that has resulted in more than 1.6 million deaths worldwide.
“I think it’s very important at some point for everyone to consider getting the vaccine; that’s what’s going to help us fight this pandemic,” Chiou said. “In the meantime, we shouldn’t let our guard down. We should still continue to social distance, to wear masks. It’s going to take a couple months before we can all be safe again.”
The county received its first 5,850 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine earlier this week. Of these, 3,900 doses are available for the county’s three hospitals, including St. Louise in Gilroy and San Jose’s O’Connor Hospital and Valley Medical Center.
So far, a total of 17,550 doses of the vaccine have been allocated to Santa Clara County, with frontline medical workers first in line to receive the virus safeguard injection. The county’s remaining doses are expected to arrive directly at hospitals later this week.
Over the course of several hours on Thursday, nurses and doctors at St. Louise lined up behind Chiou to receive their first Covid vaccinations. The inoculation consists of two doses per patient, with the second administered about two weeks after the first.
“It’s awesome, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Short, a nurse whose job consists of treating medical staff at St. Louise and testing them frequently for the virus.
St. Louise Supervising Pharmacist Kinal Shah, who’s in charge of storing the vaccine, explained that they must be stored in highly stable conditions that include below-freezing temperatures “to make sure we are not wasting any dosage of the vaccine.”
Watching the first Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Gilroy was an emotional moment for some of the doctors on hand. Emergency Department Director Dr. Brian Saavedra said that after facing “significant risks” every day and seeing a growing number of Covid-19 patients for the last nine months, it is a relief to see a new layer of protection.
“For us to have some semblance of safety, some way of protecting ourselves so we can continue to take care of these very sick patients … it’s just incredible,” Saavedra said. “It is a wonderful day—absolutely one of the best and most emotional moments of my life.”
Scheduled for a Covid-19 vaccine shortly after Chiou was Dr. Leonard Popky, an emergency physician at the South County hospital. He had been up all night Wednesday treating patients in the emergency ward.
“For the last nine months we’ve been seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s been the virus coming at us,” Popky said. “Finally the light at the end of the tunnel looks a little different. This vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s showing us a way out.”
Saavedra publicly thanked the staff at St. Louise and the county’s health system for taking care of frontline workers so they can take care of the patients under their own watch.
Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were approved by U.S. regulators earlier this month. Santa Clara County has been allocated 39,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to arrive locally next week.