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Orange County Health Care Workers Get First Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — A Providence St. Joseph Hospital nurse was the first person in Orange County Wednesday to be vaccinated for COVID-19, shortly followed by other health care workers.

"It is a very special day to be here," Providence St. Joseph CEO Dr. Jeremy Zoch said, noting that the vaccine's arrival is a much-needed relief after many difficult months.

Nurse Michael Lowman was the first to voluntarily receive the inoculation, followed by nurses Song Lee and Soledad Mathus, Dr. Paul Sheikewitz, and respiratory therapist Brian Sullivan, at Providence St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange. Nurse practitioner Christie Aiello administered the shots.

"It's a very special time," Zoch said, to be giving shots to the hospital's employees who tirelessly treat coronavirus patients, often taking on extra shifts and skipping days off. "Today is the beginning... We know from the doses we've got that with the next several weeks we'll be able to vaccinate all of our front line caregivers working bedside."

Zoch said he was encouraged by how eager his employees are to get vaccinated.

"We love that our caregivers, who know the science, are saying we want the vaccine," he said. "That energy is really positive."

The doses arrived Wednesday morning and were being administered within a few hours, Zoch said.

UC Irvine also received about 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday morning and began administering shots. In the next few days, nearly 3,000 front-line workers will get the shot.

UCI is expecting to receive the first doses of Moderna vaccine by next week if it is approved as expected this week.

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian locations in Newport Beach and Irvine received 1,950 doses Wednesday. The hospital plans to begin giving out shots at 6 a.m. Thursday, she said.

"It feels great," said Dr. Stephanie Chao, Hoag's director of pharmacy services. "I know there's a lot of work to be done still and this is just the beginning -- but to get going on those vaccines, to get them safely in was oddly satisfying and pleasing. We have hope now."

UCI Health Respiratory therapist Erik Mara, who just returned to work a day ago after battling a bad case of COVID, says he was one of the lucky ones.

"The crazy part was like the whole time I was out I didn't really know about the vaccine that was coming here. But coming back to work it was kind of like prayers answered - a blessing in disguise. Wow, you know, I just got COVID, it's been out of my system. I build immunity to it. Now I'm going to get the vaccine. I feel like it's calling," Mara said.

The shipment to UCI is enough to vaccinate a fifth of the health care workers at the facility. By mid January, all of them could be vaccinated.

Doctors at the hospital hope the public will be eligible for shots in February.

"This is the beginning of the end, hopefully, for this pandemic but there's still a long way to go and we're just getting into the worst of this now," said UCI Health Dr. Cyrus Dastur.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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