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The COVID-19 vaccines are in.

OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital administered the first doses Friday morning in Athens County to frontline health care workers, marking the beginning of the end to a pandemic that has infected nearly 3,000 county residents and killed six.

“As infectious disease experts, we have known that for the tide to turn in this tremendous battle with a very deadly disease we needed a vaccine, and now we are starting the next phase in saving lives,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, OhioHealth medical director of infectious diseases. “This is the most critical moment we have been waiting months for. We believe after going through the rigor of testing and trials, just at an accelerated pace, this vaccine is safe.”

The hospital, one of 10 in Ohio that previously agreed to be a vaccine site, offered its first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine to employees who work in environments that present the highest risk of infection, including the Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, Urgent Care and respiratory care. 

The next shipments will be distributed first to health care workers who come into direct contact with patients in the hospital setting, followed by those who work in moderate risk environments, including OhioHealth Physician Group associates as well as the rehabilitation and imaging staffs, according to a news release from the hospital system.

OhioHealth received its first shipment of vaccine Dec. 15, and nearly 2,000 doses have been distributed between Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, where staff were vaccinated Wednesday morning, and O’Bleness.

The vaccine will be made available to employees at other OhioHealth sites in the coming days. The hospital system has invested in ultra-cold freezers to store potentially hundreds of thousands of doses, the release said.

“We are very excited about this next step in the battle against COVID-19,” said O’Bleness President Mark Seckinger. “We have worked together at OhioHealth to get the vaccine, to plan for our staff to get vaccinated, and to continue to care for our patients at the very highest levels. Our staff has answered the call, they have worked tirelessly to save lives, and now this vaccine is available to them, to keep them healthy as the battle against COVID-19 continues.”

Rachel Cooper, a nurse at O’Bleness and a Hocking College graduate, was the first health care worker to be vaccinated in Athens on Friday morning, according to the news release.

Lucy K. Bucher, an O’Bleness DO who specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology and cares for COVID-19 patients experiencing women’s health issues, was thrilled to be vaccinated. She received her dose around 9:45 a.m.

“It really sort of feels like the first step we have in kind of playing offense against this virus, where we have spent months and months at first sort of scrambling and getting our bearings and then playing defense,” she said. “It felt really big.”

Bucher ensured to people who may be skeptical of the vaccine after its rapid development that it’s perfectly safe for the vast majority of recipients and that no corners were cut in the making.

“I feel very safe getting it because I know the FDA process and the trial, the standards around the trail were not compromised in any way,” she said.

The Pfizer vaccine was granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration last Friday and has been shown to be more than 95 percent effective in preventing severe COVID-19-related illness in patients. Although, there is some evidence that shows on very rare occasions patients experience an anaphylactic reaction minutes after receiving their dose.

The other major vaccine, created by Moderna, is expected to receive emergency authorization Friday and was shown to be more than 94 percent effective.

Despite being vaccinated, Bucher doesn’t plan on changing her day-to-day behavior. Wearing a mask and social distancing will continue to be part of the routine since it’s still an open question whether the vaccines prevent asymptomatic transmission of the virus.

“What it does for me is provides me with a sense of sort of peace and that I feel a little safer for my own health and safety … I feel really strongly that the vaccine is going to save lives,” she said. 

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