First responders vaccinated

SCWEMS members receive first dose of COVID vaccine

On January 6, vaccination against the coronavirus COVID-19 started for first responders in Carbon County.

Melissa Sikes, Director of South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services (SCWEMS), received her inoculation. She is happy vaccinations are happening because she is hopeful it will alleviate the spread of the disease.

"The vaccinations will help flatten the curve a lot," Sikes said. "The Moderna vaccine that Carbon County got is 95 percent effective at preventing the virus completely and 100 percent effective in preventing a person from getting the virus at a critical level. So you might get a mild case of the virus, even with the vaccine, but you only have a five percent chance of that happening. A person is not going to get it so bad that they might end up on a ventilator and die from it."

She said the vaccine is very specific on how it prevents the virus. Sikes said she was not really surprised how quickly the vaccine was developed.

"The technology for messenger RNA has been around for decades," Sikes said. "With coronavirus all they had to do was block that spike protein the coronavirus had, so they just had to figure out how to program the messenger RNA to tell your body to resist it."

Messenger RNA (mRNA), according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made. During protein synthesis, an organelle called a ribosome moves along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.

"The vaccine is very specific on what it tells messenger RNA to do," Sikes said.

Sikes admits to being a little nervous about taking the vaccine when it first came out, but her sister is a respiratory therapist at Tampa General Hospital and she got the vaccine.

"COVID patients are a big part of her job," Sikes said. "Talking to her took away my fears."

One effect of the protocols being used to keep COVID at bay is that the flu is down this year. As of the most recent update from the CDC ending Week 53, flu season 2020/2021 remains lower than usual for this time of year in all major regions of the United States.

"The lower rate is because of masks and washing hands, steps we should have been doing long ago," Sikes said. "I don't like wearing a mask at all and I hope we do get away from that, but I hope people at least learn to be diligent about washing hands and being clean."

Asian countries such as Taiwan, which has had only seven deaths since January due to COVID, have the population using masks and hand sanitizers in day-to-day life as common ways to stop viruses since the SARS outbreak over a decade ago.

Many people may find wearing a mask and to keep social distancing annoying, but these few steps do not compare to what first responders to an emergency situation have to go through.

Sikes said strong precautions are taken whether they are answering an ambulance call for a residence or an accident.

She said, besides masks, first responders also wear gloves and goggles.

"Goggles are important to protect against any chance of the disease getting into your mucus membrane," Sikes said. "If we get information that it might be a COVID situation, we switch into gowns, full face respirators, and recently we got grant money for COVID to purchase PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators). It blows fresh air down and they are pretty cool."

She said PAPRs cost about $1300 a piece and SWCEMS was able to purchase 12 for the organization. 

"There will be at least three in every station," Sikes said.

When the ambulance service gets an accident call, such as a truck turning over, the emergency personnel wear a N-95 mask and gloves Sikes said. 

"If we are able to get to people inside, we ask if they have been sick or have any tell-tale signs," Sikes said. "If they answer yes to any of our questions, we switch gears and put our respirators on and gowns on. It is a much stronger process. Once we get back to the station, we fog and clean the equipment and everyone takes a shower. Everything is wiped down and washed."

She feels these protocols keep everyone safe.

Mark Kostovny, who volunteers for the Hanna Fire Department, said the protocols that SCWEMS adheres to are similar for the fire department when called to a scene.

"The ambulance will call us when they need assistance and will tell us if it is a COVID patient," Kostovny said. "Then we will treat it as a hazmat situation. We will do full bunker gear and SBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). Then we will help them with whatever they need. Once we are done, we wipe and clean down all our equipment and go home and immediately shower."

He said any call has the fire department personnel wear a mask. Kostovny said the fire department waits until the EMTs tell them the situation whether to ramp up or ease down.

Kostovny got vaccinated the same time Sikes did. He will get the second vaccination on February 3.

"If we want to get out of this (COVID), masks are not a big deal, in my opinion," Kostovny said. "Far as the vaccination goes, I told my firefighters, it is your personal choice. Do your research and if you don't have an issue with it get vaccinated. My personal feeling was that if I get vaccinated, that eliminates me from maybe bringing it home to my wife until she can be vaccinated." 

Kostovny has done research and was glad to get the Moderna vaccine versus the Pfizer vaccine.

"From research and reading I have done, there seems to be less side effects with the Moderna," Kostovny said. 

Kostovny believes the masks, social distancing and cleanliness is helping against the pandemic.

"I think we have learned a lot from this virus that will help us in the future," Kostovny said. "The flu is down and that is because we are doing reasonable things like washing our hands."

Both Sikes and Kostovny look forward to when COVID loses its grip on the country but, until it does, they will follow protocols to protect themselves and the people the help. 


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