Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast gets COVID-19 vaccine

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

MIRAMAR BEACH — Walton County received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine on Monday, as doses arrived at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast. The Miramar Beach facility was one of 173 hospitals in 43 Florida counties chosen for initial distribution of the vaccine. 

Among the first vaccine recipients at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast was Tina Snodgrass, director of the facility's inpatient units.

"This was a historic day and I am thrilled to be able to get the vaccine so I can protect myself, my patients and my loved ones against this terrible virus,” Snodgrass said in an Ascension Sacred Heart news release. “I am grateful we have the new vaccines and look forward to the day when COVID-19 will no longer pose a deadly threat to our community."

Tina Snodgrass, director of inpatient units at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, celebrates after receiving the coronavirus vaccine on Monday at the hospital in Miramar Beach. Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast received the first shipment of the vaccine to Walton County. Initial doses of the vaccine also will go to frontline health care workers at Healthmark Regional Medical Center in DeFuniak Springs

Henry Stovall, regional president of Ascension Sacred Heart health care facilities, got emotional Tuesday about what having the vaccine available means for health care workers and the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

"For the first time, we're on the offense," Stovall said, noting that up to this point, working in the COVID-19 environment has been "a battle physically, mentally and emotionally" for health care workers. The vaccine, he said, will provide those workers with some assurance that they're not passing COVID-19 to patients, nor to their families at home.

Walton County received the vaccine developed by the Moderna pharmaceutical company. It is more suitable for use locally, because it does not have to be stored at the ultra-cold temperatures required for the first vaccine to be granted federal emergency use authorization, from the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

The Moderna vaccine requires a second shot 28 days after the first injection, and Stovall said Ascension Sacred Heart has received assurances that sufficient quantities of the second shot will be available to their personnel.

Sam Radford of facilities management at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, keeps his sleeve rolled up Monday as he receives a COVID-19 vaccination. Ascension Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast was one of the 173 hospitals across the state chosen for initial vaccine distribution.

Stovall couldn't say exactly how many doses were received Monday by Ascension Sacred Heart, but he noted that it was sufficient to have all of the hospital's caregivers vaccinated, along with personnel in the associated off-campus Ascension Sacred Heart medical groups.   

More:Walton County moving into some targeted testing for COVID-19

The initial vaccine shipment is earmarked for high-risk frontline health care workers, and in addition to being administered to those workers at Ascension Sacred Heart, also was set to be administered to those workers at Healthmark Regional Medical Center in DeFuniak Springs.

The vaccine arrives at a critical time for Walton County and the hospital health care workers. As of Tuesday morning, the county's two hospitals held a total of 19 COVID-19 patients. That's the highest number of COVID-19 patients in the two hospitals since the earliest days of the pandemic in March, Walton County Administrator Larry Jones told the Walton County Board of County Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.

Three of those COVID patients were in intensive care units as of Tuesday, and one was on a ventilator, Jones told commissioners.

A staff member at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast in Miramar Beach receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the hospital on Monday, the first day the vaccine was available in Walton County. After local health care workers receive the vaccine, it will go to patients and staff at long-term care facilities.

Commissioners are updated on the local status of the COVID-19 pandemic at each of their twice-monthly regular meetings.

More:Walton County continuing to leverage CARES Act funding

Elsewhere in his Tuesday update, Jones told commissioners that, since March, there have been 42 COVID-19 deaths in the county. That represents 1% of the people — which includes some non-county residents — who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the county since March, Jones said. Sixteen of those deaths have come in long-term care facilities in the county, Jones added.

Currently, according to figures presented Tuesday by Jones, the county's positivity rate for COVID-19 testing is 13.17%.

The numbers provided to commissioners Tuesday by Jones prompted him to urge county residents to be mindful of the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in the community.

" ... (T)he infection rate is still pretty (high)," Jones said, “so we ask that all proceed with caution, and protect yourselves and others as best we can.”

Stovall echoed Jones in a Tuesday interview, saying "we're not out of the woods yet."

"We need the public to partner with us," Stovall added, to ensure that hospital beds and treatment are available when needed.  

In other coronavirus-related developments at Tuesday's commission meeting, Jones told commissioners that the three rapid COVID-19 test machines ordered by the county have arrived. But, he added, the county is still waiting for the test strips needed for the machines, which can provide COVID-19 test results within 15 minutes.

Jones also told commissioners Tuesday that Holly Holt, the administrator and health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, is working out a strategy for the best use of the rapid-test machines in the county.

In the coming days, Ascension — like the county — will be sharing information regarding the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to the general public.

In the meantime, Stovall said in the Ascension news release, “It’s important that we do everything possible to demonstrate that the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and work to ensure all people ultimately have access to them.”

Part of demonstrating the safety of the vaccine will be the ongoing example of Ascension Sacred Heart personnel receiving it, Stovall said.

"We hope that we're modeling that behavior," Stovall said. "We want to be good role models."