ROUND ROCK, TX — Baylor Scott & White-Round Rock frontline workers began their first round of inoculations against the coronavirus on Friday after receiving the first batch of the vaccines this week, officials said.
"The vaccines arrived yesterday, and we started vaccinating at 7:30 this morning," Dr. Rob Watson, the chief medical officer of the Austin, Round Rock and Hill Country regions, told Patch during a telephone interview. "I don't want to be hyperbolic, but it is historic for us. It feels like this pandemic has gone on forever, and this gives us hope that we're better equipped in the future."
Watson said several hundred staff members have received their first of two needed doses of the Pfizer vaccine that arrived Wednesday before a second shot 21 days later. More will be inoculated over the weekend, Watson said, and even more through Monday. The initial allotment numbered 975 vaccines, the doctor added.
Per state guidelines, the vaccinations are being administered in two tiers, the first comprising those on the front lines, long-term care facilities, patients and staff, Watson said. Those in the second tier include other health care providers at other clinics and locations, he added.
Baylor Scott & White-Round Rock received nearly 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, enabling frontline workers to get inoculated against the coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Baylor Scott & White.
The arrival of the vaccines yielded palpable relief to taxed health care workers in a county currently in the highest, red-colored alert level. Dubbed Stage 5, the risk alert denotes uncontrolled community spread of the COVID-19 virus. While a Stage 5 alert level may seem like an abstraction to some, those on the front lines of health care see the scourge firsthand across every growing metric — hospitalizations, patients at intensive care units, percentages of patients on ventilators, mortality levels and the rate of positivity, the doctor told Patch.
"We've been seeing our numbers increase," Watson said. "Thankfully, we are able to manage, but it's taken a toll on people who are doing an amazing job. I think this vaccine is helping them see a positive light at the end of the tunnel."
Conversely, Watson said a growing number of patients unaffected by coronavirus but with other ailments or treatments — chronic illnesses or heart conditions, for example, or women needing regular mammograms — have hesitated to seek needed medical attention for fear of the virus's prevalence. The doctor conveyed assurances of the safeguards taken at the hospital system he leads, urging such patients to be confident in the safety of seeing a doctor for their medical needs.
"Basically, our concern throughout the pandemic has been that people are not coming to our facilities because of COVID," Watson said. "Don't delay your care," he added. "If you need help, seek it," he said, expressing concern that delays could exacerbate existing medical conditions.
The vaccinations arrived a month since Williamson County moved to the critical red phase in alerting to transmission of the coronavirus on Nov. 19 when the region was found to have uncontrolled community spread of the respiratory illness. The Williamson County and Cities Health District said its gating criteria guided the move to raise the alert level from orange to red,
The key indicators for phase changes — including the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations and new cases — all trended upward, officials said in raising the alert level. The rolling seven-day average for incidence rate (rate of new reported infections) increased from 10.76 to 13.08 per 100,000 residents over the past seven days prior to the heightened alert level implementation, officials added.
Given such concerning statistics, the vaccine is viewed as a much-needed commodity in the war against coronavirus. Another commodity that has been in short supply amid rising rates of illness: "Big smiles," now abounding at the hospital system among front line workers now suffused with hope, as Watson described. "There's a lot of excitement and relief that this is the beginning of getting past the pandemic. So we're extremely happy."