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First COVID-19 Vaccines Administered in WNC

Dr. Chona Reguyal is the first in line to receive the COVID-19 at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville.

A primary care provider who practices in Fletcher became the first COVID-19 vaccine recipient in Western North Carolina.  “That felt great,”  said  Dr. Chona Reguyal about getting the first shot Tuesday morning.

Reguyal  works with  Pardee Family Medicine Associates and spends time working in urgent care where she’s exposed to COVID patients.  “I’m just so excited to be able to get this vaccine and to tell my patients how important it is. This is a big moment for our community.”

Pardee UNC Health Care was among 11 hospitals in the state and the only hospital in Western North Carolina to receive an early shipment of the vaccine. Cherokee Indian Hospital  received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday and expects to start vaccinations on Wednesday.  Mission Health and Haywood Regional are also expected to get shipments this week. 

Within hours of receiving its first shipment of the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine Tuesday morning, Pardee vaccinated a group of ten front line, high-risk health care workers. Maria Rodriguez, who works in environmental services was among them. “I feel really excited because I was waiting a long time for this vaccine,” said Rodriguez.  She told reporters that the shot felt just like any other and that she felt good after receiving  the immunization. "It's normal, I don't feel anything," said Rodriguez.                                               

Credit BPR
Maria Rodriguez was among the first 10 frontline healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine at Pardee Hospital.

In the Pfizer trial, vaccine recipients have reported mild symptoms - such as sore arms, redness at the injection site, headache or fatigue -  a little more frequently than with flu vaccines. 

The hospital hopes to vaccinate as many as 400  frontline healthcare workers by the end of the week. 
“This is truly a light at the end of the tunnel, and we are very proud,” said David Ellis, MD, chief medical officer for Pardee UNC Health Care.  Ellis says the hospital is now caring for more than twice as many COVID-19 patients as it was several months ago.  “In September-October we averaged around five patients, now we have 13.”  The hospital says they expect just under 600 hi-risk employees to be vaccinated during this first round.  Because it was approved under an emergency use authorization, Pardee can’t mandate the vaccines but Ellis says every employee he’s spoken to plans to get the shot.

As a Phase 1a provider of the vaccine, and an “open site” per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pardee will also be able to offer the vaccine to those serving on the front lines throughout Henderson County. Pardee is bound by the parameters of the Emergency Use Authorization and federal and state regulations as to who can receive the vaccine in this early phase.

“We know that our community is eager to see the vaccine distributed and we look forward to being able to do that as more vaccines are available and as the CDC approves subsequent priority groups,” said Ellis. “As we celebrate this milestone in the course of the pandemic, it is important that we all remain vigilant and continue to practice the 3-Ws of wearing a face covering, waiting at least 6 feet apart and washing hands.”

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.