Today, five frontline staff at Alameda Health System (AHS) Highland Hospital were the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  It marks a historic moment and big step forward in the fight to end the global pandemic as Alameda County and Bay Area continue to face a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

The vaccine is a bright spot and cause for hope for many of the staff, vulnerable patients and community we serve.

Janet McInnes RN, Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Nurse Executive administered the very first vaccines. “Our health care workers on the frontline of COVID-19 are superheroes” says McInnes. “But even superheroes need a little help sometimes.  With the delivery of the vaccine we now have the ability to give our AHS superheroes another tool in the COVID-19 battle.”

One of the first superheroes ready to roll up his sleeve was Vanjel Sito, Respiratory Therapist III at Highland Hospital. “I’m super excited to be a part of the AHS vaccination program,” he says.  “I’ve seen first-hand what COVID-19 does to a patient’s lungs and I want to help in any way I can.” Sito adds, “The vaccination is going to give me that extra armor so that I can protect my patients and my family.”

AHS received its first shipment of nearly 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday and another 4,875 doses are expected next week.  In addition, 1,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine has been allocated and should arrive within the next week or so.  AHS plans to vaccinate 200 patient-facing health care workers per day within the next few weeks.

AHS is opening additional COVID-19 clinics at Alameda, Fairmont, John George Psychiatric and San Leandro hospitals next week.  The clinics will operate as long as it takes to vaccinate all AHS employees who want it. The vaccine is not mandatory but highly recommended.

COVID-19 vaccines are being held to the same safety standards as all vaccines.  “The vaccine is safe and has a 95 percent efficacy rate in producing protective antibodies,” says Dr. Colin Feeney, attending physician in the Intensive Care/ Palliative unit at Highland Hospital. “The side effects in the many thousands of people who have received the vaccine so far have been mild and short-lived. The benefits far outweigh the risks and I recommend the vaccine for everyone.”

For many AHS employees this vaccine represents a new beginning. “I decided to get the vaccine today to do my part in eliminating COVID-19,” says Amanda Krueger, Registered Nurse II in the Emergency and Intensive Care Unit at AHS’s San Leandro Hospital. “As health care workers, we need to lead by example and encourage our colleagues to get the vaccine.  I know I’m not the only one who is looking forward to being able to hug my family tight and begin the process of healing.”

AHS is taking a staggered approach to disseminating the vaccine to frontline employees to ensure their safety and the safety of their co-workers, patients and loved ones. Staggering the vaccine will also help reduce the possibility of a workforce shortage or interruption of health care services for patients.

After health care workers, the vaccine will be distributed to people living in long-term care facilities and is then expected to be given to essential workers before going out to the general public.

While the COVID-19 vaccine gives AHS employees and the community cause for celebration, the biggest line of defense against stopping the spread of the virus is a combination of getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, social distancing, staying home and cleaning your hands often. Masking is mandatory at AHS and employees who receive the vaccine must continue to wear a mask to protect themselves and their loved ones.

For the latest COVID-19 updates and more information on AHS COVID-19 clinics and the vaccine, visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Information Hub on the AHS intranet where you will find resources including a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs).