December 29, 2020 at 4:46 pm PST | by Noah Christiansen
LA LGBT Center administers its first COVID19 vaccinations
Dr. Ward Carpenter, co-director of health services at the LA LGBT Center, administers the first Moderna COVID19 vaccination to Keith Leach.
(Blade Photo by Noah Christiansen)

HOLLYWOOD – Doctors and staff clapped after Keith Leach, a Black frontline worker healthcare coworker at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination Tuesday morning.

The first of 400 doses received by the Center, it was dispensed by Dr. Ward Carpenter, co-director of health services at the Center’s McDonald/Wright Building located on North Schrader Blvd.

Leach, told the Blade that he felt “great and happy” after receiving the vaccine. He then highlighted the fact that, for the Black community, it might be difficult approaching the vaccines due to the history of the healthcare industry being racialized, but recommends that everyone get the vaccine because of how important it is.

“Seeing so many people in [the Black] community being disproportionately affected by the virus- I know I needed to get the vaccine,” he said.

Dr. Carpenter said, “It’s exciting. It’s the day we give the vaccines. It feels like the dawn of an era.”

The Center’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Robert Bolan, told the Blade that the Center’s doctors administering the vaccines believe that this is a clear step in the right direction to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. “It’s amazing,” Bolan said, “It feels like how it felt after the first HIV treatment was given to the public.”

The Center had acquired the deep freeze capabilities to store the vaccines a few weeks ago according to Lorri Jean, the Chief Executive Officer of the Center. In an emailed statement Jean told the Blade that “[The Center] has the capacity to store 100,000 doses. But, we have no idea how many doses we will receive.”

Lorri Jean, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre (Blade file photo)

“We have more than 400 front line staff.  We have 355 employees in health services alone, and per the direction of the governing authorities, anyone working with them (e.g., security and maintenance staff) is included in the vaccines–that’s the way to ensure that they’re all protected,” Jean said in response to a Blade query as to the numbers of Center personnel slated to receive the vaccinations.

“We’ve also succeeded in getting our senior housing facility, Triangle Square, deemed equivalent to a congregate care facility and all of our senior services staff are considered front line staff.  All of this means that they’ll be in the first group of people receiving vaccines,” she said.

“The Department of Public Health will be conducting those vaccinations (of residents and staff), we’ve been told some time this week (unless that has changed since I knew last week).  We hope to secure a similar designation for our youth services workers who are on site with youth residents,” she added.

The Blade asked about the Center’s deep freeze capacity whether or not it was an officially designated a storage facility by the LA County Public Health Department for the Pfizer vaccine in addition to the Moderna vaccine.

Darrel Cummings, the Center’s Chief of Staff, responded; “While we received the Moderna vaccine, we have appropriate refrigeration for the Pfizer or other vaccines that require much lower temps for storage.  We are an approved distribution site but I don’t believe we have been approved as a storage site.”

Cummings also noted, “Vaccines were delivered to us for the purposes of vaccinating healthcare workers only.  Should there be any leftover doses, we are required to return those to public health for use by other healthcare organizations.  We cannot choose to provide them to others who do not work in our healthcare programs.  We will receive the same number of booster vaccine doses as we have with the first dose and they will arrive in a time appropriate manner.”

“We made determinations about who to offer that vaccine to first.  Those who work daily on site and come into contact with clients as a part of their jobs were first followed by those who have a hybrid work schedule, working remotely some days and on site others.  Basically, the order placed first those who have the most contact with others most often,” he added.

The Center, which employs over 800 staff members, has several clinic operations.

Ramzzey Cruz watches as the Center’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Robert Bolan, administers vaccine.
(Blade Photo by Noah Christiansen)

For Ramzzey Cruz, another Center frontline worker who received a vaccination said, “it’s exciting” to receive the vaccine. For Cruz, it is important to feel comfortable when taking the vaccine. Cruz says, “With the research behind it, I feel more than comfortable taking [the vaccine].”

“This is a momentous day—a pivotal time for us to help combat the deadly surge of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles and beyond. Since the pandemic began, our dedicated frontline workers helped to keep our Center open for those in our community who rely on us. This vaccine will help us in that fight,” said Dr. Carpenter.

“I strongly encourage everyone to educate themselves and consider taking the vaccine—when given the opportunity—because it is the only way to defeat this highly-contagious virus, to save lives, and to bring normalcy and joy back to our lives,” Carpenter added.

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