The first round of Pfizer vaccines was given to health care workers Wednesday at Hilo Medical Center, 273 days after the first stay-at-home order was implemented in Hawaii.
Casey Agpon came in early on her day off to be the first person to receive the first dose of the vaccine at the hospital Wednesday morning.
Agpon has been working as a housekeeper in environmental services at HMC for 15 years. This year, she was part of the team sanitizing, cleaning and taking care of the COVID-19 unit in which infected patients were treated.
“I was scared to get the vaccine at first, because I didn’t know how it would affect me,” said Agpon. “But I called two of my doctors, and they insisted I get the vaccine for my protection.”
Agpon lives with lupus and has a close-knit relationship with her family. While she was anxious at first, she knew it would be a good idea to get the vaccine to stay protected with her team in the COVID-19 unit.
“I feel good now. I feel safe,” Agpon said. “I hope everyone does this so we can all protect each other.”
Hilo Medical Center received two trays of the Pfizer vaccine and split one of them with Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.
A tray of Pfizer vaccines is being stored in a freezer that is set to about minus-70 degrees. Each tray contains 975 doses, leaving the hospital with 1,500 doses.
“Santa came early for HMC,” said East Hawaii Regional CEO Dan Brinkman. “The doses we’ve received will easily cover the first dose for employees at HMC as well as other East Hawaii health providers.”
Everyone who registers for the vaccine is automatically in the pipeline to receive the second dose in three weeks.
HMC will use the Vaccine Administration Management System, which will help employers, clinics and vaccine recipients manage COVID-19 vaccination efforts. VAMS will electronically report the information to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the first day of vaccinations, HMC officials expected to vaccinate at least 150 employees.
Dr. Douglass Do was one of the first to receive his vaccine and is eager for the community to begin working toward eventual herd immunity.
“I was looking forward to my vaccine, actually,” said Do. “We’re a small community here, so people eligible for the vaccine have the opportunity to prevent this from spreading as much as possible.”
While excited for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Do still encourages limiting gatherings and wearing masks.
“In many ways, Hawaii is ahead of the curve compared to other states that have reached a crisis,” Do said. “We need to continue limiting gatherings because asymptomatic spread is still an issue.”
Critical care nurse Denise Dalton has no plans of letting her guard down even after getting her first round of the vaccine.
“This is very exciting, especially for many us working in the ICU,” Dalton said. “We’ve been taking care of COVID-19 patients, and this will only help us continue to care for our community.”
Nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors working in the ICU and COVID-19 units have become a tight-knit group after their year together during the pandemic.
“It was always important for us all to be on the same page, so we already worked well as a team,” Dalton said. “Before COVID-19 really hit, we got together to make sure we were prepared as much as possible.”
Although the team was prepared, they were not able to save everyone, and Dalton has watched many patients lose their battles with COVID-19.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and the news reports really don’t do it justice,” Dalton said. “It’s shocking for patients who suddenly can’t take a breath and, for us, it’s hard to see these people quickly crumble right in front of you.”
Dalton is hopeful the vaccine can provide the herd immunity the community needs to beat the virus, and is anxious for the vaccine to be available to the general public.
“My husband is older, so I really want him to get it soon,” Dalton said. “If we’re both protected, then we will better protect our family.”
HMC administrators are hoping to receive another shipment of the Pfizer vaccine within the next week, which will come about two weeks before health care employees need their second doses.
On Tuesday, 30 staff members at Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital received COVID-19 vaccinations, with the remaining staff expected to receive the vaccine during the next two weeks.
Kona Community Hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic went live Wednesday after the facility received one shipment from Pfizer and one from Moderna on Monday.
HMC is expecting to receive a similar amount of doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be distributed to long-term care facilities in the next few weeks.
On Wednesday, Hawaii Island’s COVID-19 case count increased by 13, with one person hospitalized, which brings the island’s total case count to 1,835.
Fifty deaths have been reported for Hawaii Island, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.
Email Kelsey Walling at email@example.com.