SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Cottage healthcare workers are celebrating the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. At 10:03 a.m. Thursday frontline workers cheered as the truck from Pfizer arrived. The first doses were given later that morning.
Just under 2,000 doses will be given to frontline workers caring for COVID patients. And the staff said it’s just one more tool they have in the fight to end the pandemic.
The first three recipients of the vaccine were registered nurses Lorenzo Vasquez, infectious disease doctor Lynn Fitzgibbons and Letty Rodriguez who helps clean the covid units.
"Thank you for this vaccine," said Vasquez. "And it's like one of the best birthday gifts I got. For today's my birthday."
Cottage Hospital workers, normally in the trenches helping covid patients, held back tears of joy as they talked about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
"My family appreciates it," said Vasquez. "I appreciate it. It just adds on to be able to take care of our patients a lot better."
Hospital president Ron Werft said the plan is to vaccinate up to 300 people a day. Cottage is expecting nearly 2,000 additional doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in two weeks.
"There's a good chance that within two weeks we'll be able to vaccinate the people who are taking care of our community," said Werft.
The health care workers say this isn't the end of the pandemic.
Dr. Fitzgibbons said, “Receiving the vaccine at this point changes nothing. It changes nothing in regards to my recommendations for my patients for my colleagues. And it changes nothing in regards to my own practices. We all need to keep wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands and not gathering. We have to continue doing all we can to fight COVID.”
It will help as hospitalizations surge.
"The next few days and weeks are going to be difficult," said Dr. Fitzgibbons. "We know that. And we are so much better armed with this vaccine here and ready to help."
"I'm not going to change anything different," added Vasquez. "I'm going to still keep my distance, still keep my distance from family members with underlying diseases. Even though it's my birthday I'm still going to keep my distance."
The healthcare workers urge everyone to continue physical distancing and wearing masks until everyone is vaccinated. Santa Barbara County Public Health expects the public vaccine rollout to start this spring.
Cottage Hospital also hopes to get another wave of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines and a wave of Moderna vaccines before the end of the month.
The hospital has the capacity in its ultra-cold freezers to store 40 thousand doses.
Santa Barbara County received 3,900 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine is expected to first go to frontline healthcare workers. Half of the doses went to Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria and the other half to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara.
The vaccine comes as Santa Barbara County and California are seeing record daily new cases of COVID-19. On Wednesday health officials stated 60,941 Californians got COVID-19.