Riggs Ambulance, the exclusive ambulance provider for Merced County, serving a population of over 280,000, received the Moderna vaccine, and as of Jan. 8, there had been a seamless inoculation of about 142 people, consisting of Riggs employees and Merced County Fire Department first responders.
Riggs Ambulance Executive Director Carly Alley and CQI (Continuing Quality Improvement) Manager Mike Garrett told the Times, “We have had some employees infected with COVID — some off duty exposures and some on duty exposures — but our numbers have been pretty low.
“We have a total of 216 employees, which include EMTs, paramedics, billing office staff, and administrative staff.
“Of those 216 employees, around 130 are EMTs and paramedics who might be exposed to those with COVID.
“We’ve vaccinated 40 of our employees to date and 102 of the first responders in the Fire Department.
“The California Department of Public Health coordinated with the Merced County Public Health Department, and the doses of vaccine were shipped directly to us from the California Department of Public Health.
“The vials of Moderna vaccine arrived at our facility in one shipment. Moderna is a little easier to work with than Pfizer because of the less extreme storage requirements.
“If it’s frozen, it’s good for six months but we don’t have the capability to keep it frozen so we are refrigerating it.
“We stored the vaccine in a refrigerator here, and it’s good for 30 days.
“We have held four clinics in conjunction with Merced County Public Health, and we’re doing another one more next week. We have nurses from Public Health helping us out.
“Once we open a vial, it’s good for six hours and we have to coordinate to administer it. We set it up before hand and scheduled certain days for the vaccinations. We had to stagger people who are working and not working and that’s why we had multiple clinics. Any doses not used have to be documented and reported to Public Health. We haven’t had to waste very many doses. It’s been done through a lot of phone calls.
“I have six or eight people signed up for next week’s clinic, and I’m hoping to get more.
“Then we’re going to start planning for the second dose.
“It’s a two-dose vaccine. Once you give the first dose, the second dose has to be given no sooner than 28 days afterwards.”
When asked if there was any resistance to the vaccine among the Riggs employees, Alley told the Times, “They’re not fully against it, but from the viewpoint of the general public, the vaccine came out quickly and with everything with COVID being so different, there’s just a general hesitation among everyone.”
Garrett said, “Some people don’t feel like they’re exposed because we have a lot of PPE in place, and a lot of them feel like there are others more at risk out there and would rather have the vaccine available to those others. I haven’t documented the number of people who declined.
“We don’t have a specific policy to encourage the employees to take the vaccine, but we do encourage them. We held town hall meetings on Zoom and Google Meets where the clinical staff and our management was there, as well as our medical director, and they provided education on the vaccine, how it came to be, and its side effects.”
Garrett created a power point for the employees to access if they missed the town halls.
Garrett told the Times, “At the virtual meetings, people did ask questions like what the make up of the vaccine was. There was a good turn out. I was happy they were curious because I wanted them to make an informed decision.”
When asked about the side effects, Garrett said, “I administer the shots myself, as well as the nurses from Public Health. Someone draws up the medication while another person administers it.
“I haven’t had any reports of side effects.
“The mild symptoms I’ve heard about were more prevalent with the second dose of the vaccine.
“When we have the clinics, we provide an area for those who received the vaccine to hang out for 15 minutes after the shot, and we have medication available in case of a bad reaction. I’m a paramedic, and Carly is a paramedic. “There’s a questionnaire about allergic reactions and their medical situation. So there’s a whole process beforehand at the clinic. The clinics have lasted generally about four hours.
“Both Carly and I were vaccinated.
“I got my vaccination on December 29th and Carly got hers on January 5th. As to myself, I have had no side effects short of a little pain in my arm at the shot site.”
Alley explained, “That was my experience also — mild pain at the site on the day of the vaccination.
Garrett concluded, “It’s good to finally see possibly a light at the end of the tunnel. Just a month ago, we were just talking about a vaccine and now we’re boots on the ground, making it happen, and it feels good to see that we’re taking steps to hopefully get back to normal eventually.”