Skilled nursing frontline workers get first COVID-19 vaccines available in Santa Clara County

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- On Thursday morning, frontline workers at long-term care facilities were the first to get Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Clara County.

Local health officials said 210 frontline staff members at nursing homes got vaccinated Thursday, a small dent in the estimated 130,000 healthcare workers set to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the county.

Cliff Roperez was the first worker to get the shot.

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He is a licensed practical nurse at Canyon Springs, a San Jose nursing home.

Skilled nursing facilities are linked to just 5% of COVID cases in Santa Clara County, but those same facilities are linked to 45% of COVID deaths in the South Bay, according to health officials.

The county's goal is now to vaccinate 6,000 people in the next few weeks.

Frontline hospital workers will begin getting vaccinated by the end of the week, and residents in long-term care facilities will be offered the vaccine later this month.

At a news conference, public health officials said there is currently no timeline for when the general populations will be able to get vaccinated in the county.

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Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's public health officer, reiterated the county is following state and federal guidelines on vaccination prioritization.

"They are in the high-priority group which has been prioritized for early vaccination," Cody says.

"We feel they represent a staff that's working in one of the most important areas to protect in our community which is the skilled nursing facility," said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing officer.

"We cannot normalize the devastation that is around us," Cody adds. "But we can have hope and see a path forward in getting ourselves out of this current crisis, and seeing that this pandemic will not last forever."

The South Bay leaders said now is the time to double down on the health measures we've been practicing since the outset of the pandemic: don't mix households, keep your distance, and wear a mask as hospitals in the region reach ICU capacity.

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On Thursday, ABC7 News asked Dr. Cody about reports of an additional one to two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in each vial.

She welcomed the news, and said it would mean the county currently has more doses on hand than anticipated.

Cody added that could hopefully allow more people to get vaccinated with forthcoming allotments of the vaccine.

However, as of now, officials say vaccination efforts are limited to the number of appointments available and the number of people administering the vaccine.

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