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Delivering the Dose: HOAG Community Champions

By JEFF GOLDBERG, 04/23/21, 11:00AM PDT

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Delivering the Dose

In 2021, Josh Murray has one of the best jobs on the planet.

A clinical pharmacist at Hoag, Murray oversees one of the Covid vaccination clinics that have popped up all over the region as more and more people become eligible to receive the life-changing shot in the arm.

Murray is at the happy ending phase of this entire Covid journey, from the first patients being treated at Hoag in early 2020, through the daunting challenge of keeping patients alive during the height of the pandemic, to now, with vaccination totals rising and case numbers dwindling to record lows state-wide. The re-opening of the state is now fully underway and hope for the future is at a level not seen over the past 16 months.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Murray said. “It feels like we’re part of this great mobilization that the world’s been a part of. I was there the first week when people started getting the vaccine, and just seeing their smiles and this great relief that this burden was off their shoulders, was really special to see.”

The Orange County Soccer Club has unveiled its new uniforms for the 2021 season – a return to competition and normalcy that both players and fans have been dreaming of for more than a year. To help introduce the new uniforms, OCSC and Hoag are celebrating their partnership by having them modeled not just by OCSC players, but by the Hoag heroes who helped shepherd the Orange County community through the darkest days of the pandemic back to the light of a bright and healthy future.

The Covid vaccines have re-written the narrative of the global pandemic. With each shot in the arm, the end of the crisis takes a step closer to realization.

The job of delivering those shots falls to men like Murray and women like Hoag director of pharmacy Stephanie Chao. And, in their own way, the road was paved by those in the community who volunteered for drug trials, including therapies like the steroid dexamethasone and Covid treatment Remdesivir.

“One of the most profound things to happen, and it happened many times, were patients that came to us and were successfully treated for Covid, and many of them had received, at that point, experimental therapies,” said Dr. Philip Robinson, medical director of infection prevention. “Hoag has been involved in research at all levels of attacking this virus, and it’s nice to see the heroes of our communities, the patients who volunteered for these clinical trials that allowed us to develop these therapeutics and save lives later in the pandemic.”

Hector Hernandez, a pharmacy runner at Hoag, was responsible for delivering some of those treatments to patients.

“I would have strangers come up to me and thank me for what I was doing,” Hernandez said. “It threw me off. This is my job. The real heroes are the doctors and nurses and pharmacists. I’m just delivering these medicines. But the community wanted to thank us for what we were doing.”

Murray remembers last April when the first spikes of infections began impacting different communities, and Murray could hear the helicopters arriving with patients on board. He felt the dread of a worsening crisis.

A year later, Murray’s dread has given way to hope. Like all those charged with administering the vaccine, Murray is like the goal scorer in soccer after a perfectly executed set piece. The last bucket in a water brigade putting out the biggest fire of our lives.

“It’s humbling because we know that there’s a lot of people in these companies investing a lot of time and energy into making these vaccines. You think of all the people – the people in [environmental services], the people working in nutrition, the administrators -- the chain and all the manpower that’s

gone into this. It’s very humbling. It all boils down to me drawing up this vaccine and putting it into someone’s arm. It’s inspiring.”

No moment brought more inspiration than last December 17, when Dr. Usmah Shah received the very first vaccination at Hoag. It was the beginning of the end for the pandemic, and a new beginning for the Hoag staff and the Orange County community at large.

“There’s hope, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Infection prevention manager Melissa Garcia. “We were all there when they gave the first injection of the vaccine and it was probably the most memorable thing to see that and see the hope on our health care provider’s faces, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s the first phase of being able to slowly re-open as a community and live life again. There was hope. I can’t use that word enough.”

The Hoag staff, just like the community they serve, have their own personal hopes and dreams for a world on the other side of the pandemic. A world that includes travel, near and far; going to sporting events, concerts and amusement parks. A world where people can safely visit with friends and family, hug and kiss them and celebrate life with them.

Hoag support services technician Lauren Macy has a friend with an auto-immune disorder that she looks forward to spending time with again. Her parents have also been vaccinated.

“I cried, because my mom works in health care, as well, and she was able to get her vaccine,” Macy said. “I was so excited. It was this huge sense of relief and feeling of you having fought this battle this whole time, and you see people getting exhausted, and there’s this next step and it’s going to help us protect our families and communities.

“It’s really exciting. We still have a lot of work to do, so many different things. As long as everyone continues vaccinating, we have a very positive outlook ahead of us.”