SALINAS VALLEY — Mee Memorial Healthcare System received its allocation of 500 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 22, with priority vaccinations of frontline workers beginning that same day.
The vaccines were delivered to Mee Memorial Hospital in King City at 11:30 a.m. and prepared by the pharmacy staff to begin vaccinations by 12:30 p.m.
“There’s finally an end in sight,” said Dr. Robert Valladares, interim chief medical officer at Mee Memorial. “The vaccine is here. Starting with our frontline health care workers, we’re going to move tier to tier.”
The first wave of vaccines were prioritized by the state and county to be administered to frontline healthcare workers and residents of skilled nursing facilities.
“Frontline healthcare workers is a very general description,” Valladares said. “Anyone who works with patients or infectious materials, it essentially means everyone who works at Mee Memorial at the hospital and the clinics.”
The other three hospitals in Monterey County each received 1,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week and 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the week earlier. Natividad Medical Center in Salinas was assisted in being able to store the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, through the lending of an ultra-cold freezer from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Each hospital also took to the task of immunizing its staff.
Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in Salinas mobilized its registered nurses to vaccinate frontline workers, and Natividad’s first dose was administered to Intensive Care Unit Medical Director Dr. Tony Medawar. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey also began vaccinating staff and medical workers according to their risk.
“Right now we are vaccinating our frontline staff and physicians who are most at risk. We need them to be healthy to care for our patients and the community,” said Pete Delgado, president and CEO of Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System. “Receiving the vaccines has been a huge step forward in our fight against Covid-19.”
Mee Memorial, which also has clinics in King City and Greenfield, and the other three hospitals in the county will move through the vaccination priorities as part of the tiers in a phased distribution system.
“I encourage everyone to be patient because we do want to get the vaccine out to the general public as soon as possible,” Valladares said. “Mee Memorial, since it’s very small, it can be very nimble. As soon as we have doses that we know we can use for the public, we will be working to get that out through our clinics.”
The vaccine’s arrival came at a point when California hospitals were experiencing an increase in patient hospitalizations and shortages of beds, a situation that is ongoing.
For Mee Memorial, its 25 acute care beds and six intensive care unit beds can fill up quickly, especially considering ratios and staff limitations that can curb acute patient beds to fewer than the 25 total.
In addition, Mee Memorial helps other area hospitals with load balancing, where less severe patients are sent south from Salinas or Monterey in order to free up beds for more severe patients.
Some patients might only stay at Mee Memorial for a matter of hours, but with a shortage of beds system-wide, complications can arise when more severe patients need to be sent north out of the King City hospital.
“What happens at the other hospitals affects our hospital, even though we’re an hour away,” Valladares said. “Right now, because the Salinas and Monterey hospitals are so full, it affects Mee Memorial.”
He said with six beds in the ICU, Mee Memorial can go from seeing 20 to 25 ICU patients on a slow day to more than 50 patients on a busy day.
According to Valladares, vaccinated hospital workers were observed for 15 minutes after injection for side effects and were asked to report longer-ranging side effects. The most common reported issue was pain at the injection site, low-grade feve, and fatigue, all part of the vaccine’s design to ramp up the recipient’s immune system in what is called a “reactogenic” response.
Valladares said Dr. Bruce Greenberg reported such symptoms the day of his injection but was back to seeing patients the next day.
Due to the side effects, hospitals have been advised to stagger their staff vaccinations.
Valladares said Mee Memorial staff were vaccinated over the course of several days, including into this week, in order to space out possible side effects adverse enough to cause anyone to need to take time off to react. By the second day, they had vaccinated 100 of their almost 300 employees.
While 500 doses were provided to Mee Memorial, Valladares said the hospital is partnering with other organizations, such as local paramedics, to get other frontline workers not on their staff immunized.
“Even before being done with everyone, we are going to exercise our better judgment and help out any organization that needs help,” Valladares said.