Vail Health Administers First COVID-19 Vaccine

Lead Respiratory Therapist who recovered from COVID-19 receives first vaccination

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Vail, CO (Dec. 16, 2020) ― At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, December 16, Vail Health administered the first COVID-19 vaccine. Julie Scales, lead respiratory therapist at Vail Health, was the first of 220 Vail Health staff and local health care workers to receive the Pfizer vaccine on day one.

Due to Scales’ personal experience with COVID-19, both in her respiratory therapist role and as a patient herself, today was a momentous occasion. Originally from Bloomington, Indiana, Scales has lived in the Vail Valley since 2016 and became the lead in Vail Health’s respiratory department in May 2017. She has been a respiratory therapist since 1985 and is very passionate about her job.

Looking back to February and March, as the threat of COVID-19 to the community began to increase, Scales 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. 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. 

On March 14, Scales tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted into Vail Health Hospital. She was transferred to a Denver area hospital the following day and was on a ventilator for seven days. Despite treating thousands of ventilated patients over the years, being a patient herself, often all alone in that room, is something she will never forget.

Scales recovered fully from the virus and has been back at work, helping treat others battling COVID-19. She has returned to an active lifestyle with friends and family - hiking, skiing and enjoying the outdoors with her daughter, Cassie, who is a probation officer for the state of Colorado, and Cassie’s fiance, Eric.    

“This is a very emotional moment for me,” said Scales. “The past 10 months have been a very long and personal journey, as it has been for all of our COVID-19 patients, healthcare staff and our entire community. This vaccine provides such hope for the future, and I am honored to be the first person at Vail Health to receive it. 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.”

For Scales, her own experience has allowed her to relate and comfort COVID-19 patients she treats at Vail Health Hospital on a more personal level. The antibodies in her system have enabled her to donate plasma to aid in the treatment of COVID-19. She has donated plasma multiple times.

“I hope that by getting the vaccine today it shows our community the trust as a healthcare professional that I, and others at Vail Health, have in the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine,” said Scales. “Once the vaccine is available to you, I encourage everyone to get it, not just for yourself but for your loved ones. Because of this vaccine, I have such hope for the future.”

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. 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 one of eight regional distribution storage facilities in Colorado for the vaccine, as it has ample ultra cold storage capacity.

“This is a historic week for our nation,” said Will Cook, Vail Health President and CEO. “For the past 10 months, everyone has been fighting a war against an invisible enemy. An enemy that does not discriminate and attacks the most vulnerable of our population without hesitation. Today, we took the first step toward gaining the upper hand and winning the war.” 

Once approved by the FDA, Vail Health is initially scheduled to receive 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine and Eagle County Public Health is slated to receive 1,100 doses. Vail Health will help facilitate the ongoing quick and timely vaccination of priority groups in our region. The healthcare 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.

“While there is great hope in the vaccine, people must remain diligent this winter by socially distancing when they can and wearing a mask when they are around others,” said Cook. “This war is not over, but we are one battle closer to victory, and we are hopeful for what is to come.”

About Vail Health
With a focus on providing access to higher quality, more affordable care, Vail Health is a nonprofit community health care system offering one of the world’s most advanced mountain hospitals. Led by internationally renowned orthopaedic specialists, The Steadman Clinic and Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, Vail Health additionally includes award-winning oncology care and a state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization lab. Primary, specialty and behavioral health care are provided through its partner, Colorado Mountain Medical. Vail Health is committed to meeting the growing and ever-changing needs of the diverse region and encouraging wellness and prevention through effective population health management. Vail Health is locally operated and governed by a volunteer board of directors. For more information, visit www.vailhealth.org.

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Vail Health Media Contact: Sally Welsh
sally.welsh@vailhealth.org