Laguna Beach Community Clinic starts COVID-19 vaccination of high-risk patients

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Dr. Jorg Rubal, Laguna Beach Community Clinical Director Adriana Nieto-Sayegh, Laguna Beach Fire Capt. Andrew Hill, and Laguna Beach fleet supervisor Austin Comp pose with a sub-zero freezer loaned to the clinic by the Laguna Beach Fire Department. Courtesy of Laguna Beach Community Clinic

Laguna Beach Community Clinic recently received its first shipment of Moderna’s vaccines for COVID-19, allowing for the vaccination of clinic staffers, high-risk patients, and first responders.

A small group of eager clinic staffers remained after hours for the shipment of vaccines to arrive on Jan. 13.

“I’ll always remember that evening,” Dr. Jorg Rubal, the Clinic’s CEO and medical director said in a statement. “The way the shipment was packaged, with a high-tech GPS device, underscored the importance of what we received, giving us goosebumps. We felt a strong sense of relief and joy.”

Laguna Beach Community Clinic’s patients are mostly comprised of high-risk individuals and a large number of senior residents, according to a press release.

Rubal has kept tabs since December on the opportunity to serve as a local vaccine distribution center. The Clinic had ordered a freezer to keep vials at the required temperature but the Laguna Beach Fire Department offered to lend its own sub-zero freezer in order to expedite the rollout. Laguna Beach Fire Capt. Andrew Hill and Laguna Beach fleet supervisor Austin Comp delivered the freezer to the clinic on Jan. 11.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia said Friday that fire agencies across the country are attempting to buy freezers needed to store the COVID-19 vaccines, causing a backlog on orders.

“We were able to find a freezer locally that we were able to purchase it at a good price,” Garcia said. “They were waiting for their freezer and they were told it would be at least five weeks before they could receive it.”

Laguna Beach city officials have been proactive about filing two applications with the state to establish a local distribution site when vaccines are widely available, Garcia said, adding that the Fire Department is happy to loan its freezer to the Clinic until its own unit is delivered.

“If there’s an opportunity to offer the vaccine to some groups in the community we wanted to be proactive in helping them do so,” he said. “Fortunately, it worked out wonderfully.”

The local vaccinations were possible because of coordination between the Clinic, county and city officials, and Susi Q Senior Center.

“I’m so pleased that the Clinic will be on the frontlines of vaccinating our community,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a prepared statement. “This is just another example of how our residents benefit from having the Clinic in the City.”

As additional vaccine supply becomes available in the coming weeks, the Clinic plans to expand its vaccination appointments to first include more of its patients.

The Clinic will schedule appointments for those who meet State and County eligibility guidelines, giving priority to Laguna Beach residents. In anticipation of vaccine distribution ramping-up, the Clinic has begun to take names and contact information to arrange appointments as soon as they receive more vaccines.

In the meantime, the Clinic encourages community members to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and look into options at county vaccination sites as well.

Registered nurse Adriana Nieto-Sayegh, COO and clinical director at Laguna Beach Community Clinic, oversees the daily operations of the vaccine rollout.

“Vaccinating adds to our day-to-day patient care, but we have an extraordinary staff,” she said in a statement. “We’ve been together on the frontlines for nearly a year; being able to administer the vaccine gives us a tremendous sense of hope on behalf of our community.”

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