Kevin Cody

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long, says Torrance Memorial COVID expert

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Dr. David Rand, an infectious disease specialist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, receives the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

“Tell us your thoughts,” an NBC reporter shouted from a battery of television and newspaper cameras pointed at Dr. David Rand.

Rand was on stage at the Torrance Memorial Hoffman Health Conference Center. A nurse had just stuck his arm with a needle carrying the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I feel privileged to be a part of this fantastic effort. We’ve been looking forward to it for such a long time,” Rand answered. “Because always, in the backs of our minds is the fear we will get COVID.”

The infectious disease expert was the first of Torrance Memorial’s 2,000 Tier 1 medical workers (those with direct contact with COVID-19 patients) to receive the vaccine. The rest will be vaccinated before Christmas. 

Then Rand put the vaccine in perspective. “Today, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But we’re in the tunnel and the tunnel is long.” 

“We are truly struggling,” he continued. “I knew it would get bad. But I didn’t expect it to get this bad. Thanksgiving was awful, mostly because of family gatherings. Christmas has the potential to be even more devastating.”

Another reporter asked Rand his thoughts about guidelines for rationing care if hospitals lack staff to treat a Christmas surge. On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times, without identifying the source of the guidelines, quoted the guidelines as saying, “The ethical justification [for rationing]… is that in a public health emergency…. the goal of maximizing population outcomes would be jeopardized if patients who were determined to be unlikely to survive were allowed indefinite use of scarce resources.” 

Rand answered, “We’re not there yet. But we have an ethics committee at the hospital.”

Prior to the press conference, Torrance Memorial CEO Craig Leach compared the significance of the vaccine’s arrival to the opening of the $480 million Lundquist Tower in 2014  and the $34 million Hunt Cancer Center in 2018.

“It’s a needed morale boost,” Leach said.

But he agreed with Rand that the vaccine will not mitigate a Christmas surge.

On Sunday, his hospital had 110 COVID patients, filling exactly 25 percent of the hospital’s  440 beds.

“The forecast for January is higher,” Leach said.

Rand ended his comments with a hopeful, “We’ll get through this. We just need to mask, wash and distance.”

After Rand’s vaccination a dozen other Torrance Memorial doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists followed him to the stage to be vaccinated. Each left the stage to applause.

Among them was respiratory therapist Donna Tran, who helps intubate COVID-19 patients.

“I feel safer now. I have three young children, my husband and my elderly parents at home,” she said.

Patrisha Aberrgas, an Intensive Care Unit nurse assigned to a COVID unit, expressed similar relief.

“Every day is a challenge. It’s draining, emotionally, mentally and physically. The vaccination gives me peace of mind. I live with my boyfriend and sister and they both work at home. So if they get sick, it will be because of me.”

Chief Medical Officer John McNamara told reporters he did not know why Torrance Memorial was one of the first hospitals in the nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine. But he speculated part of the reason was because his hospital has an ultra-cold freezer capable of keeping the vaccine at the required minus 94 degrees fahrenheit.

The vaccine is delivered to hospitals in boxes that resemble pizza boxes. There are five doses to a vial, 195 vials to a tray, and five trays to a box, he said.  

He gave credit for the hospital having the ultra-cold freezer to Torrance Memorial’s Assistant Pharmacy Director Tammy Ginder.

Ginder ordered the five-cubic-foot freezer during the first week of October, after learning the Pfizer vaccine was nearing approval and would require ultra-cold freezers for storage.

The freezers are now on backorder, McNamara said. ER

 

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