By Bobby Bordelon
The first doses of the first COVID-19 vaccine came to Greenbrier County this week, with the first of two shots given to some of the most exposed healthcare providers at the Health Department and local medical facilities. Even as the vaccine arrives, however, the darkest days of the pandemic in the Greenbrier Valley are still ahead.
“I got it – it was elating and overwhelming and I can’t help but say it was a little bit tearful,” said Dr. Bridgett Morrison, health officer for the Greenbrier County Health Department. “As exhausted as we are from the health department side, and I work at the hospital too, as tired as we all are, the healthcare workers, it was elating to get it, to have it, to get it administered, and that hope of eventually quiet this pandemic and literally put the pandemic behind us.”
This is coming on the heels of both the 1,000 West Virginian COVID-19 deaths and nearly 700 confirmed Greenbrier County cases. As of Thursday, Dec. 17, the Greenbrier County Health Department reports 685 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 26 in the hospital, and 25 deaths. Across the country, the vaccine comes too late for the 308,000 United States COVID-19 deaths, numbers that total the fatalities of 9/11 over 100 times across the entire county.
“People are dying, our systems are overwhelmed and we don’t want to lose anybody else,” Morrison said. “We don’t want to lose our health providers and we don’t want to lose anybody we could prevent by getting the vaccine. … All facilities, in our area and in all other areas, are at or nearing capacity. The problem is that those people who are anti-COVID, it’s not just the people with the virus who will suffer, it’s the other people with medical conditions, heart attacks, strokes. There won’t be any healthcare providers to care for them.”
“It’s always been here [in Greenbrier County] but it’s even more prevalent now – please buckle down, wear your masks, social distance, be extremely cautious over Christmas, and that’s one way you can help your healthcare providers in your community.”
As reported by Governor Jim Justice, the states plan to properly utilize the limited number of vaccines to protect the most at risk individuals, healthcare workers and the elderly, is using a tier system to distribute the doses:
– Phase 1-A: Hospital, long-term care facility and staff, and pharmacies.
– Phase 1-B: Community infrastructure and emergency response, public health officials, and first responders.
– Phase 1-C: Other healthcare workers, like home health providers.
– Phase 1-D: Teachers and education staff in higher education and K-12 and other sectors for critical services for our state, such as utility and transportation workers.
The actual number of vaccines sent to Greenbrier County was small, as Morrison explained, “they are allocating to many different organizations based on the tier system by COVID risk. It’s being allocated to hospitals, ER, ICU providers and staff that take care of COVID patients. It’s being allocated to nursing homes, both the staff and the residents, and of course EMS and health departments. We’re getting very small shipments, which is fine because a lot of those are being used throughout the state.”
A second shipment of 60,000 doses is expected to come to the state in the next several weeks, not including the potential authorization and distribution of the Moderna vaccine.
“When you look at the tier system, based on risk of exposure to COVID, and then our highest risk population, like our nursing home patients, it’s going to take a couple of months between getting the first vaccine and working our way through the staff based on the amount of vaccines that we receive,” Morrison said. “Then you have a second vaccine you have to get 21 days later. It’s going to take a little bit of time, a month and a half, two months, and that might be a little overreaching.”
These first rounds of vaccine won’t bring life back to normal, but will go a considerable way to preventing illness or death in those most exposed.
“It’s predicted that we’re going to have a rough time until April regardless,” Morrison said. “The couple of months [figured] for the tiered [vaccination is] not for the general public. It’s thought that it will be late spring before it’s readily available to anyone that wants it thats not a part of the tiered system. And we’re just starting to get hit hard in our communities.”
Leadership on the state level was also vaccinated on Monday, Dec. 14, including Justice, WVNG Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad.
“This is a historic day in our country,” said Justice. “This is an accomplishment that’s unbelievable: to be able to get out a vaccine, and get it out this quickly, get it through the FDA, with all the fine print approval to be able to start administering these vaccines.”
After the Pfizer vaccine received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA on Friday, Dec. 11, the company began to ship doses to states. Over 10,000 doses arrived at two hub locations in West Virginia, including Kanawha and Monongalia counties. Coming in two doses separated by a few weeks, the Pfizer vaccine is the first of hopefully two vaccines approved by the FDA.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter than it has been in months with the vaccine here,” explained Marsh. “It’s not about delivering vaccines, it’s about vaccinating people. The people of West Virginia should feel safe that this is effective and a very safe vaccine. It has undergone a very thorough examination by a number of scientific panels, including the FDA, CDC. People should feel comfortable taking the vaccine – it does not cause sterility, it can not cause you to get COVID, no possible way, but it does have an impact; 95 percent of the people who take this vaccine are protected from getting COVID.”
In addition, five staff members of the Greenbrier Valley Medical Center (GVMC), were given the first set of doses, according to a social media post by the healthcare center. This included Dr. Zainab Shamma in Pulmonology, Dr. Chris White the ENT, Dr. Pat Ryan the Internal Medicine Hospitalist, Dr. Amy Fought in the Emergency Department, and Dr. Joe Moshy of Urology.
“This week history is being made at GVMC,” said GVMC CEO Tim Bess. “Our front-line staff have been working selflessly for many months to treat patients affected by the pandemic. Today we were fortunate to roll out a life-saving vaccine to our employees and medical personnel. Soon our community will have an opportunity to receive this vaccine as we all look forward to getting back to a normal life.”
If someone wants to help healthcare providers, what can they do?
“Anybody that’s in the healthcare profession, reach out, see if they need anything,” Morrison said. “Sometimes we’re working double shifts and overtime and you don’t even have time to go to the store. A card, thank you for what you do. All of our healthcare providers are working so hard and those are little nice things you can show appreciation, but number one is be safe so we can stop the spread.”
And what can individuals do to keep the death and infection rate down in Greenbrier County?
“Prayer,” Morrison said. “I don’t say that lightly. Continue to buckle down, even if you don’t want to. Please be considerate of family and loved ones during Christmas time and continue to wear your masks and be safe until we can develop herd immunity, until we can get a large portion of [people] with the vaccine. It’s a dangerous time – we are red and the infection rate is just awful.”