Valley's largest physician group preparing to vaccinate senior citizens

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County is home to over 140,000 senior citizens over the age of 65.

California's Public Health Department announced an expansion of the vaccine rollout which now makes seniors eligible to get their first COVID-19 shot.

"Vaccinating the most vulnerable among us is the most important and efficient way of saving lives as fast as possible," says Sante's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Synn.

Sante physicians see over 17,000 seniors in the Valley. They'll soon receive letters informing them the vaccine is available.

Dr. Synn expects doses to arrive this week.

"The hope that lies in this vaccine to reduce the incidence of illness and stop the spread of COVID is enormous," he said.

RELATED: Central California COVID-19 vaccines: How to make an appointment, latest information by county

The federal government initially planned to hold vaccines until people could get their second dose, but Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said states shouldn't wait until all health care workers and long-term care residents are vaccinated before taking care of other groups.

"So this opening up of the vaccinations to the most vulnerable members will leapfrog us ahead in terms of the proposed initial schedule," Dr. Synn said.

RELATED: California is allowing residents 65 and older to get scarce coronavirus vaccines

It is a welcome change to Fresno County's vaccine rollout plan.

"We're just really excited about our seniors being able to get vaccinated sooner rather than later because that's going to be a gift as opposed to waiting for March," says Kelly Lilles.

Anyone 65 or over, regardless of their healthcare provider, can contact their doctor's office for information on how to get the COVID vaccine.

Dr. Alex Sheriffs from UCSF Fresno says vaccinating California's oldest residents could be critical in reducing COVID-19 related deaths, which are primarily among those older than 60.

"Age is probably the most important when we look at the national and global statistics.," said Dr. Sheriffs. "This is absolutely key to us being able to travel again. to go out to restaurants and feel good about that.

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Fresno County is home to over 140,000 senior citizens over the age of 65.

Seniors at Dycora Transitional Health and Living are seemingly doing well after receiving their first vaccine about two weeks ago.

"All of our patients have remained healthy," said Tara Raymond from Dycora Transitional Health & Living. "They haven't had any symptoms from the first round."

About 98% of residents at the facility chose to get vaccinated in late December and are now awaiting their second dose on Monday.

"It really is one of the most exciting times for us in the pandemic," said Raymond.

Dr. Sheriffs said it's natural to have questions about a vaccine that was made available so quickly.

"Although in some ways it feels that the development has been very fast, well before COVID -19 people were working on COVID vaccines," said Dr. Sheriff. "We have years of science behind this."

He recommends calling your physician to answer questions that might make you hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
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