Rena Salamacha, CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System

It’s been a cold, dark year. But now, after a global pandemic brought unthinkable trauma and heartache, Covid-19 vaccines represent a bright, warm ray of sunshine — more than a glimmer of hope.

The entire team at Mee Memorial Healthcare System is excited to witness this historic, scientific achievement. It gives us hope, an extra boost of energy, and brings us all a step closer to normalcy.

Yet change won’t happen overnight. The current vaccine rollout involves a complicated, two-dose process, one never before attempted on this scale in human history. Today, more than at any other time, we need to practice patience and persistence.

Two vaccines have been authorized for use in the United States — each with about a 95 percent rate of effectiveness. Science shows us that these vaccines will work extremely well at slowing the spread of the disease, decreasing how sick people get and lowering the death rate. (Editor’s Note: A third vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson was approved Feb. 27, after this column was written.)

Every day matters with how quickly we can get this vaccine into the arms of people in Monterey County. While county health officials and health systems like Mee Memorial are doing everything possible to streamline the process, it is an enormous task.

Our most important tool in fighting the virus comes with several challenges. First of all, demand for vaccines far outweighs the current supply.

County public health officer Dr. Edward Moreno reports that the county receives about 2,000 to 4,000 vaccines each week, well below the estimated 514,000 doses it reports it would need to meet its goals. While the county expects a delivery boost from the state, officials don’t necessarily know how many doses are coming on a regular basis. That makes planning extremely difficult.

There is good news. Phase 1A health care workers — including our amazing team at Mee Memorial — have been vaccinated, giving them crucial protection as they continue to work on the front lines of this pandemic.

As the other phases and tiers roll out, it’s important to remain informed by accessing the county’s Covid website where you can access general information, statistics, protocols and more. Those meeting the current criteria can sign up for clinics via Monterey County’s website, Covid-19 Vaccination Registration page.

We operate at least two weekly vaccination clinics through Mee Memorial Healthcare System, each averaging about 250 doses administered. Information and online registration can be found on our website’s Coronavirus page, in both Spanish and English.

Applicants must meet the criteria of the county-approved tiers to receive the vaccine. Vaccinations happen by appointment only. While the supply remains limited, the county will continue to prioritize vaccines for specific groups based on exposure risks, health risks and health equity.

Another challenge we face is finding enough qualified, trained staff to administer vaccines. As it stands, nurses are often called off the floor to help with this important task, which spreads resources thin. Currently Mee Memorial is working with the nursing program at Hartnell College to help bring in additional help.

While we face challenges, it’s important to note that receiving the vaccine is easy, safe and streamlined. When you arrive at one of our clinics, a greeter will take your temperature, check your ID and ensure you meet the current county guidelines. After filling out a short questionnaire, the vaccine is administered and you are monitored for 15 to 30 minutes. You are then presented with your vaccination card.

Remember, all the vaccines we administer are free of charge, and no proof of immigration status is required.

So far the process has been smooth, albeit painfully slow. Yet one by one, our community is working toward normalcy, returning to work, to schools, to daily lives we may barely recognize.

At Mee Memorial, we look forward to making strategic plans to steer healthcare in the direction we need to go.

Until something like this happens, you don’t realize the impact on an institution. Nothing can prepare you for such a big learning curve, from state to county to hospital. It’s forced us to be nimble, changing all the time. Sometimes we’ve been frustrated, but when we take a step back, we see everyone is learning, quickly changing gears and getting the job done.

For our staff and their families, it’s been a yearlong painful distraction. They had to focus and be hyper-vigilant, through surge and surge, and I couldn’t be prouder.

We could not have done anything without their dedication and hard work. They have been tireless, taking care of our community, stepping out of their comfort zones. And they did it with such an open heart.

I am eternally grateful.

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