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UC Davis Medical Center says it has reached herd immunity from COVID-19 among staff through vaccinations. "CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud spoke with one nurse initially hesitant to get vaccinated. Now, she explains why she thinks everyone should get it.
ANTHONY MASON: Welcome back to CBS This Morning. After a slow start, vaccinations are speeding up across America. More than 56 million doses have been administered so far. It's good news, but we're still far from the so-called herd immunity that scientists say we need to be safe.
Our lead national correspondent, David Begnaud, is at UC Davis Medical Center near Sacramento. David, you spoke with a community that has achieved that threshold.
DAVID BEGNAUD: We sure did, Anthony. Look, we were back here in December, initially, when they got the first vaccine, and they were ready to put it in the arms of their employees. And they called us about a week ago and they said, David, we have achieved herd immunity. And here's how.
When we were here in December, they had 210 employees out sick due to COVID. You know how many they had as of yesterday? Only 10. More than 93% of the employees here at UC Davis Health all stepped up and said, we will be vaccinated. But the interesting part to this story is that there were some who said, no, no, no. I don't want the vaccination. And watch what happened to one of them.
Meet Chasity Whitmer She's a nurse. She was delivering babies at the height of the pandemic, and when her time came to be vaccinated, she hesitated.
What were some of your initial concerns?
CHASITY WHITMER: If I got the vaccine, would I get COVID? What would my side effects be? How long would it last?
DAVID BEGNAUD: But with a husband who stays home and takes care of the kids, this is what changed her mind.
CHASITY WHITMER: I was orienting a relief charge nurse on my unit, and we were having a discussion. What happens if we got COVID? We wouldn't be able to work, we wouldn't have income, we wouldn't have health insurance, so we kind of just talked amongst each other and boosted our confidence up, and stood in line to get vaccinated.
DAVID BEGNAUD: She and more than 90% of the staff here at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Now listen to how high the rate is at the emergency department.
NATE KUPPERMANN: So we have 100% compliance amongst emergency physicians.
DAVID BEGNAUD: 100%?
NATE KUPPERMANN: 100% amongst emergency faculty.
DAVID BEGNAUD: This is Dr. Nathan Kuppermann. He is in charge of UC Davis' emergency department. We were there back in December when he got his first shot.
How has vaccinating the vast majority of employees here changed your ability to staff the ER?
NATE KUPPERMANN: That is a great question. So before the vaccine came out, on any given day, we would have between 100, 150 employees that were sick with COVID, and were calling in sick, and were not coming in.
DAVID BEGNAUD: And now?
NATE KUPPERMANN: Now, I think it's single digits. There's less than 10. Suddenly, there was this pressure lifted from our shoulders.
DAVID BEGNAUD: It's not just UC Davis' Health system. Across the University of California health system, cases among health staff dropped from 431 per week to 171 per week. And with fewer staff out sick, the strain on health care workers has really dropped too.
Anne Tompkins, the interim employee health services director at UC Davis Medical Center showed us the data.
ANNE TOMPKINS: It's working. The numbers are a testament, people's stories are a testament that the vaccine is truly working. And we're going to be OK.
DAVID BEGNAUD: Back to Nurse Whitmer for a moment, she's gone from being a vaccine skeptic to an evangelizer, and here's why. A few days after she received her second dose, her husband, her mother, her three kids, and her grandmother all tested positive for COVID. You know who didn't? She and her grandfather, and they are the only two in the family who have been vaccinated.
CHASITY WHITMER: My husband was extremely sick with COVID pneumonia, was here at the emergency department for nine hours, my grandmother spent 25 days in the hospital with COVID pneumonia, and is still recovering on oxygen. It's not fun seeing your family members sick. It's very scary being a nurse, watching them get sicker and sicker, and whether to go to the hospital, whether to stay home.
DAVID BEGNAUD: What do I hear in your voice? I hear the breakup.
CHASITY WHITMER: Yeah. Just reliving it.
DAVID BEGNAUD: And when you relive it, what makes you emotional?
CHASITY WHITMER: Not knowing if my husband would be one of the ones that would live or die.
DAVID BEGNAUD: What a story. She went from being an I don't want it to a thank God I got it. One health official here at UC Davis Health said to me yesterday, David, COVID-19 is no longer an occupational hazard within our health system. Think about that for a minute. Back to y'all.
GAYLE KING: You always give us a lot to think about, David Begnaud, but what a story, Chasity Whitmer's story. It's almost a cautionary tale for people that are trying to decide what to do, how to do.
ANTHONY MASON: And the thing is, when you talk about her fear, the statistics bear it out, because there's this-- a statistic came out from the federal government yesterday, life expectancy last year in the US dropped by a full year.
GAYLE KING: That's right.
ANTHONY MASON: Typically, it moves by weeks or days, a full year among men and women, among Black Americans, it dropped by 2.6 years. It's the biggest drop since after World War II. So it had an enormous impact on how long people live in this country.
GAYLE KING: Fear is real, but we all have to get over that, I think. Anthony, I've heard you say many times, if they pulled it in the garage--
ANTHONY MASON: Any place, any time.
GAYLE KING: You would roll up your sleeve. Yeah, to get it.
- You can use the same needle as Anthony, I don't care. Wipe it off with a paper towel.
GAYLE KING: There's light at the end of the tunnel. David, we thank you again.