This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on December 16, 2020.
Amid cameras and applause, Vail Health Hospital administered its first COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday to Lead Respiratory Therapist Julie Scales.
Scales’ personal experience with COVID-19 made her the ideal recipient for the ceremonial first shot, said Vail Health Director of Public Relations Sally Welsh.
Scales tested positive for COVID-19 on March 14, a few days before nearby Vail Mountain shut down due to the virus.
“It was very scary,” she said. “It was just so new.”
Scales visited the Vail ER and was transferred to a Denver area hospital the following day, where she was placed on a ventilator for seven days. Her daughter, who also lives in Eagle County, was with her emotionally through the process, and upon receiving the vaccine on Wednesday, Scales’ first reaction was to embrace her daughter.
“It was very emotional for both of us, after going through what I went through,” she said.
Scales said she was a good first recipient because her story reminds people that even if you have had the virus, you can get it again and should be vaccinated.
“I wanted to be the one to encourage people to get the vaccine,” she said. “If I can get one person to change their mind on whether they want to take it or not, that’s good. I want to let people know that I’m willing to take it, and I think it’s good, and I believe in science.”
One of 220
A respiratory therapist since 1985, Scales became the Lead Respiratory Therapist at Vail Health in May of 2017. Welsh said she is very passionate about her job and was instrumental in training staff on the emerging stringent requirements for respiratory protection that proved vital in Vail Health’s COVID-19 preparedness and response.
“Scales’ focus on readiness for all types of critical patients allowed Vail Health to be at the forefront of COVID-19 treatment,” Welsh wrote in a press release. “Respiratory Therapists, with their expertise in both acute and chronic breathing disorders, have been indispensable during this pandemic, working with Vail Health’s dedicated doctors and nurses to treat patients.”
Scales had a full recovery, and describes the past 10 months as a very long and personal journey, as it has been for all of our COVID-19 patients, health care staff and the community.
“This vaccine provides such hope for the future, and I am honored to be the first person at Vail Health to receive it,” she said. “I am both proud and thankful for everyone at Vail Health and beyond who has been working hard to keep our patients and community healthy and safe.”
Vail Health received a total of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday in the initial shipment, with 510 doses allotted to Eagle County Public Health, 365 allotted to Vail Health and 100 doses allotted to Aspen Valley Hospital. Welsh said Vail Health will work with Eagle County to help facilitate the quick and timely vaccination of health care workers and first responders, such as Eagle County Paramedic Services, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, police and fire departments. Eagle County is coordinating the distribution of the vaccine to long-term care facilities and other high-priority groups.
Vail Health is scheduled to administer the vaccine to 220 local health care workers on Wednesday.
More on the Way
Vail Health applied with the state and was accepted to be one of eight vaccine distribution centers based on its deep-freezing capabilities, which are required to preserve the Pfizer vaccine.
But the hospital is also scheduled to receive 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and Eagle County Public Health is slated to receive 1,100 doses of that vaccine, as well, as it does not require ultra cold storage capacity.
The health care system will administer the vaccine in accordance with all Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment and Eagle County Public Health guidance, initially prioritizing health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff, Welsh said.
Vail Health CEO Will Cook said once all health care providers and nursing home residents and workers who want the vaccine have received it, the hospital will try to get it out to “front-line” workers who interact with people.
“Ultimately I want to get it to folks that work in restaurants and hotels because, in my opinion, they’re as, if not more vulnerable, than some of our health care workers,” Cook told the Avon Town Council on Dec. 8. “The sooner we can get this to our people who don’t have the luxury to work remotely from Zoom, the better we are to getting past this darn thing.”