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It's hard to imagine it was one year ago today when the first COVID-19 vaccine doses were given here in southern Colorado. UCHealth Director of Pharmacy for southern Colorado Chris Martin was chosen to draw up the very first vial in Colorado Springs.
Chris still has the empty vial from that day and tells me, “It’s a piece of history, I remember it was one of the most gratifying days I've ever had in the profession of pharmacy. I remember coming home with his vile and showing it to my kids and saying, ‘This is a piece of history, this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic as we know it.’”
Chris also tells me he felt a little rusty drawing up that first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the large press event. “Before I went to pharmacy school I was a technician in the IV room. I hadn’t drawn a dose out of a vial in quite a long time. With the product being so scarce at the time I didn't have a chance to practice. So, the first time I'm doing it is on camera. It was a surreal feeling.”
What began on December 14th, 2020 with UCHealth employees eventually grew to more and more groups of people eligible to be vaccinated, and it took a giant team effort by the pharmacy team to get it done.
Chris says, “It took a lot of resources but we didn't get to the point of doing 2,000 patients in a day overnight. It was months of learning and growing and getting more resources and working on our workflow and setup. It took a lot of time and effort to get there but it was exceptionally gratifying to be a part of.”
As of Monday, December 13th, 2021, statewide UCHealth has given just over 800,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and one year in our community has come a long way but Chris says there is still work to do. “Ira, every day in our community people are still dying of this disease and the vast majority of those folks are unvaccinated. It's sad to be honest with you because most of those deaths are preventable. We are not out of it yet we are still very much in a pandemic but we're in a better place than we were a year ago.”
Chris says it’s the dedication of the entire pharmacy team at UCHealth that continues to work to make our community a healthier place. “I look at it as a mission. I'm doing my part to help bring an end to this chapter in our country's history, or at least bring us to a better place.”
While the pace of vaccines has slowed on a daily basis since earlier this year, the pharmacy team has more treatment options available. “Not only do we have the vaccines but we are giving monoclonal antibodies as a therapy for people who have COVID. Those drugs have been very effective and they take a ton of pharmacy resources to be able to provide as a service. So, the work continues and it's still an important mission.”
If you're still vaccine-hesitant today, while Chris says there still aren't years of data on these vaccines to look at, the year we have had is something to consider. “If you look at these vaccines, yeah there are some unknowns. We can't deny that but, we also know what COVID can do and we still see it play out every day. The other thing I would say about the vaccine is that most side effects we see from any vaccine that's ever been made, occur very early after being given, within 15 minutes. We now have hundreds of millions of people who have received these vaccines and we have yet to see a really strong safety signal. The mRNA vaccines are really a miracle of science and I am personally thankful to be alive at the time that we have those available.”
Finally, I asked Chris if these mRNA vaccines are showing potential to treat other medical conditions. “Unquestionably, there are studies going on now with that exact same technology (mRNA vaccine) in cancer. The opportunities in infectious disease and cancer with that technology is tremendous.”
If you're fully vaccinated with 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or with 1 dose of Johnson & Jonson, the data says a booster will increase your immunity levels. If that is something you’re thinking about I recommend a conversation with your healthcare provider.
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