Valley doctors say there's a long COVID-19 battle ahead, not to fear the vaccine

The vaccine is a big step in beating COVID-19, but health experts warn we have a long battle ahead, even insisting this winter will be worse than it was last summer.

Frontline workers at Valleywise Hospital will begin getting the vaccine shots starting Thursday, Dec. 17. It’s not required, but is recommended.

Arizona is a hot spot again, leading the nation in per capita cases, according to Arizona State University models. Numbers are accelerating every day since October. 

Not only cases, but deaths, are on the rise.

“We are in the thick of it now. We have less options available now than we did in the summer," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer with the ASU Biodesign Institute.

The vaccine administered to Arizonans starting this week is a light at the end of the tunnel. On Dec. 16, Governor Doug Ducey announced 10 frontline workers who will be getting the vaccine.

However, health experts warn Arizona has a long dark road ahead of us.

“Those numbers are too small it’s not really until we reach about 50% of the population that we start to see an impact on the overall spread of the virus. And that probably won’t happen until mid-year 2021," LaBaer said.

Valleywise Hospital has three ICU beds available after hitting capacity on Dec. 15. The hospital is now caring for more than 90 COVID-19 patients, and many of them are very sick.

“The patients we are seeing in this surge are a pretty impressively sick population," said Dr. Michael White, CEO of Valleywise Hospital.

The hospital has additional staff with more set to come after Christmas, White said. They're ready to work, but hoping not to triage patients at the anticipated peak in January.

“Those standards exist. We have reviewed them and are aware they are available but we hope not to have to utilize them," White said.

As for people nervous about getting the vaccine, LaBaer and White are expecting to receive shots as soon as possible. They insist what people should really worry about isn't getting the vaccine.