SAN LUIS OBISPO — San Luis Obispo Fire Department Engineer and EMS Alec Flatos was the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine shot from the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department.

The shot was administered at 1:13 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, during a SLO County Public Health Department press event that was live streamed on YouTube. The County received its first allotment, 1950 doses, of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday.

Flatos was one of five people to receive the vaccine Friday — Marla Howard, hemodialysis nurse for DaVita Kidney Care of SLO and resident of Morro Bay; Dr. Matthew Williams, emergency room physician at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and a resident of SLO; 

Jennifer O’Connor, ER nurse at French Hospital Medical Center and a SLO resident; and Dr. Daisy Ilano, Medical Director at SLO County Behavioral Health Department and a SLO resident.

Getting through this together, Atascadero

“Is this an exciting moment or what? It is for me,” said SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein. “We feel confident this is a very safe and effective vaccine.

Borenstein reminded people to continue to do their part — wear a mask and social distance — as the virus is still surging in the County. “I implore people for the hundredth time, or the thousandth time, or the ten-thousandth time, to please use all of the well-understood mechanisms for preventing disease spread.”

Flatos spoke about the importance of getting the vaccine.

“On the advice of personal friends that are doctors, nurses, I’ve made my decision to be supportive of this absolutely because it is the right way that we can all move forward, be safe in our communities,” Flatos said. “Not only am I going to be able to better protect our community with this vaccine, but I’m also going to be able to better protect my family and my loved ones.”

Flatos looked forward to others doing the same.

“Unequivocally, this is the right decision for all of us to make in the EMS world, and I look forward to being the first firefighter in this county to get the vaccine,” he added. “And I look forward to all of us following suit. So that we can move forward.”

Dr. Williams said he was grateful to be receiving the vaccine.

“I want to set a good example for the community and show you all that those of us on the front line and in healthcare are completely supportive of this vaccine,” he said. “We all believe fully in its safety and efficacy and in its value.”

Being an ER doctor, Williams has seen the pandemic’s toll and said the vaccine was coming at a critical time.

“With cases again skyrocketing and hospitals reaching capacity again, I don’t think this vaccine could have come at a more critical time,” Williams said. “I hope that one day soon, many of you, if not all of you, will have the chance to get vaccinated and to do your part to put an end to this horrible pandemic.”

SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein explained that healthcare workers would get the vaccine first and the County was going to be holding invite-only vaccination clinics, beginning on Monday, Dec. 21.

There are two phases of distribution. Phase 1 includes the highest-risk individuals, starting with hospital workers, EMS personnel, skilled nursing facilities (staff and residents), dialysis centers, and ending with other essential workers and anyone who has high-risk medical conditions or is over the age of 65.

On Thursday, the County received approval to begin distributing the vaccine to its hospital partners.

“Our hospitals in this county all got some vaccine yesterday and have begun the process of immunizing their healthcare staff,” said Borenstein. The County was expecting to get 4,000 doses next week of the recently approved emergency use Moderna vaccine, which does not require the ultra-cold storage temperature.

As more supply becomes available, more SLO County residents will be able to receive the vaccine later in 2021. There is no waiting list for the vaccine. Instead, the County will inform the public when vaccines become available for various groups of high-risk individuals and for the general public.

As the press event was happening, SLO County Public Health reported 191 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths. 

All three of the COVID-19 deaths reported Friday were vulnerable to severe illness because of underlying health conditions. One person was in their 80s, one in their 90s and one was over 100.

There are 1,686 active COVID-19 cases, including an all-time high of 35 people in the hospital, eight in intensive care and 1,651 recovering at home.

Fifty-nine people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. It was the fourth-straight day with at least two deaths and more than 179 new cases. Twenty-one people in SLO County have died from coronavirus in December. 

The majority of people in SLO County have recovered, 6,706.

North County had 87 new COVID-19 cases on Friday — 47 in Paso Robles (1,983), 19 in Atascadero (776), nine in Templeton (267), six in San Miguel (259), three in Santa Margarita (68), two in Shandon (78) and one in Creston (39).

For more information, visit www.ReadySLO.org or call the recorded Public Health Information Line at 805-788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center at 805-543-2444 is available Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist with questions related to COVID-19.