‘VERY GRATEFUL’ Emergency Room Dr. Roger Chiou received South County’s first dose of the new Covid-19 vaccine at Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy Dec. 17. SLRH Clinical Nurse Liesel Short (right) administered the vaccine to Chiou and some of his frontline colleagues throughout the afternoon. Photo: Michael Moore

Dr. Roger Chiou of Saint Louise Regional Hospital was the first South County recipient of the new Covid-19 vaccine Thursday afternoon.

More than a dozen of Chiou’s colleagues and fellow frontline workers gathered around to witness the historic and long-anticipated occasion as SLRH Clinical Nurse Liesel Short injected a dose of the vaccine into the emergency room doctor’s left arm in a lobby/hallway area of the Gilroy hospital Dec. 17.

The hallway erupted in applause as soon as Short removed the needle from Chiou’s arm.

Chiou said he felt “very grateful” to receive one of Santa Clara County’s first doses of the new Pfizer vaccine. He and other medical professionals at SLRH who have played a hand in acquiring, storing and delivering the vaccination expressed their hope that the moment represents 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 new Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

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.

SLRH nurses and doctors lined up behind Chiou to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine doses throughout the afternoon. The vaccine consists of two doses per patient, with the second dose to be 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 SLRH and testing them frequently for the virus.

SLRH Supervisor Pharmacist Kinal Shah is in charge of storage of the vaccine doses at the Gilroy hospital. She explained the vaccines 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 vaccine being delivered in Gilroy was an emotional moment for some of the doctors on hand. SLRH Emergency Department Director Dr. Brian Saavedra said after facing “significant risks” at the hospital every day and seeing an increasing load of sick 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 SLRH. He had been up all night Wednesday treating patients in the ER.

“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 made sure to thank the administrative staff of SLRH and the county’s health system for making sure the frontline workers are able to take care of patients affected by Covid-19.

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.  

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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