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Medical director for Clackamas, Washington counties gets shot on Dec. 18, speaks about experience Dec. 21

PHOTO COURTESY OF JEAN MARKS, PROVIDENCE MEDICAL - Clackamas County EMS medical director Dr. Ritu Sahni (right) receives the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Dec. 18 at Providence Portland Medical Center. Dr. Ritu Sahni wants residents of Clackamas County and the metro region to know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.

Sahni is the medical director for Clackamas County, Washington County and Lake Oswego emergency medical systems. Last Friday, Dec. 18, he received the COVID-19 vaccine at Providence Portland Medical Center where he serves as a physician in the emergency department.

Sahni caught up with Pamplin Media Group on Monday, Dec. 21 to talk about the process, explain some of the mechanism by which it was developed and answer a few questions about vaccine safety.

PMG — What was it like being one in the first groups of people in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

SAHNI — As a frontline health care worker, it was all handled by the hospital and was pretty straightforward. I felt fine, had a little bit of soreness in my arm on Friday and a bit Saturday, but I was fine Sunday and today. Other folks told me they felt nothing. I had no other symptoms, no feeling rundown or fever, anything like that.

I've talked to people. I've reviewed the science. A number of independent bodies, both in the Center for Disease Control and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and even in our health care organizations have reviewed the science. I'm obviously 100% comfortable with receiving this vaccine. As health care worker, I believe it's my responsibility to do what I can to both keep myself and my patients safe, as well as model what I think is the correct behavior.

PMG — We're hearing people are concerned about the timeline of this vaccine's development. Do you trust the process it was developed under?

SAHNI — Absolutely. There were no corners cut. The scientific basis by which this vaccine was approved is similar, if not the same as any other vaccine approval process. The one sort of difference is the studies are only about six months into it. In terms of the number of people enrolled, it was very typical. If you add all the studies together, there were quite a bit more people enrolled in these vaccine trials than your standard vaccine, and I think there are two reasons it happened in that manner. One, the funding to do these trials was made readily available in large quantities. Enrolling people in these vaccine trials costs money, and the more money you have up front, the more people you can enroll. Two, I think because of the relative importance of this vaccine trial, it was a lot easier to find volunteers. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEAN MARKS, PROVIDENCE MEDICAL - 'I believe it's my responsibility to do what I can to both keep myself and my patients safe, as well as model what I think is the correct behavior,' Dr. Sahni said.

How does that compare to other vaccines?

SAHNI — If you read other vaccine trials and FDA documents, the standards are exactly the same, so I felt pretty comfortable after reading through the process and knowing that there were no shortcuts taken. The time was compressed because of the funding and volunteers made available.

PMG — What are some myths that you've heard thrown around in regard to this vaccine?

SAHNI — This is what's called an mRNA vaccine. These are the first two ever approved vaccines of this type, and that creates concern in people. I totally understand that, but the technology has been studied for over 20 years. There have been people enrolled in trials; it just hasn't ever got to phase three where they were looking at implementation, but there is data going back 20 years on the safety of this type of vaccine.

The other myth that I hear is that it messes with your DNA — it absolutely does not. It in no way changes your DNA or messes with it. The safety numbers are pretty comparable to any other vaccine.

PMG — How would you rate the state's implementation and roll out of the vaccine in this first round?

SAHNI — We're still in the process of figuring out a bunch of the logistics on how to get it to our frontline emergency medical system workers and other frontline personnel, so it's still an ongoing process. I think at the end of the day, when this is all done we'll need to look back on it and learn how we can build upon what we've done and always look to improve.

PMG — As an EMS medical director for two metro counties and the city of Lake Oswego, does this provide an exciting opportunity to be involved in those discussions of how to improve these systems and finding logistical solutions?

SAHNI — I guess you would call it an exciting opportunity, but I will say that my thought process today is still very much in the 'here and now' to figure out how we work together with all of our partners to get this continued to be deployed. It's like any other operation, there's stuff that you figure out on day one, where by the end of the day you realize what isn't going to work. So there just continues to be constant conversation and retooling. The big factor is, how much vaccine is available and when is it going to get here?

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