Russell County Hospital has been selected as the first hospital in the state of Kentucky to receive the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
RCH CEO Patrick Branco told WJRS News that the vaccine arrived Thursday morning at the hospital.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Branco told WJRS News. “This is a really good vaccine and we’re very excited that it does the job we need it to.
But how was Russell County Hospital chosen?
Branco said it came down to he and several others advocating for rural hospitals.
“I am deeply passionate about rural medicine,” Branco said. “And it’s the fact that folks in a good part of the country and a good part of Kentucky live in rural settings. We get left out a lot. The urban centers get most of the attention and for good reason. That’s where the population is, and if you want to get the entire state vaccinated, you start with the biggest population. However, I don’t want to have our rural communities, and mine in particular here, left behind.
I’ve been pounding my fist on the table and advocating for our community to make sure we’re in line for the vaccine, just like everybody else in the state. Apparently it got some attention.”
This vaccine, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, only requires one shot and was recently approved for distribution to the public by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is also significantly easier to store, as it can be stored in a regular refrigerator.
“This vaccine is just one dose,” Branco said. “Part of the logistic challenge, particularly with our older population, getting to and from the hospital can be challenging sometimes. With this one dose, we can get people there, administer the dose, and then they’re done. We don’t have to schedule people to come back for a second dose.”
Branco said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also believed to have fewer side effects than the Moderna vaccine. Although most of the Moderna vaccine side effects are very mild, Branco said that because this vaccine is one dose, there are lesser side effects.
“These side effects aren’t a huge deal, they just tell us that the vaccine is working,” Branco said. “When you get your second dose, about one-third of people experience flu-like symptoms. It’s good news. It’s the right news. It just doesn’t feel good when it’s happening to you. With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with it being one dose, there should be fewer flu-like symptoms.”
Branco encourages people to take the vaccine when they have the opportunity, and said having three vaccines in distribution a year from the first confirmed case in Kentucky is “a miracle.”
“Regardless of politics, this is a miracle of the American mind at work, creating this vaccine and making it available,” Branco said. “We’re doing this work a year from the onset and that’s amazing.”
Branco also recently celebrated his one-year anniversary at Russell County Hospital.
“I couldn’t be more blessed,” Branco said. “The people at the hospital, the staff, the doctors, the nurses, and the community folks have been wonderful. This is one community that really cares about each other and I see it every day. It’s demonstrated in powerful ways every day.”
An effective treatment option, close to home
While much of the focus has been on vaccines, and understandably so, Russell County Hospital has also been able to treat several COVID-19 patients with two different medications that, if introduced early on, have had some success.
Remdesivir and bamlanivimab are two medications utilized at Russell County Hospital that have been used to treat patients with COVID-19.
“Bamlanivimab is an antibody treatment and is very effective,” Branco said. “A very low incidence of side effects. It’s for early-moderate disease. If you get sick really fast, that treatment isn’t quite as effective.”