1st Routt County residents receive COVID-19 vaccine (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Erin Weber’s eyes welled up with tears as she received the prick of an injection in her left arm.
Weber, a registered nurse who works in the emergency department at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, was the first person in Routt County to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday.
She didn’t even feel the shot, she said. But it felt “pretty incredible” to be the first.
“It’s such an honor to have this opportunity in midst of a pandemic — and what it means for my patients and for the community,” Weber said. “Really, it’s like — the sun is going to rise again.”
Weber talked about caring for a recent COVID-19 patient who suffered cardiac arrest and died about 72 hours later.
“This disease is very real,” she said. “This disease is very deadly, and we have had those cases here in Steamboat where patients died in front of our eyes.”
The night before her appointment to get the vaccine, Weber said she barely slept.
“What a momentous time in history and our lifetimes,” she said.
When Weber found out she was going to be among the first group to get the vaccine, she said she was overcome with emotion.
“I hadn’t felt that sense of hope in so long,” she said.
Director of Pharmacy Wes Hunter sat at a nearby a table, carefully filling five syringes from each tiny vial of liquid. He spent the pre-dawn hours making sure the fragile vaccine was properly thawed, reconstituting it with sodium chloride.
Throughout the day, a succession of about 200 hospital staff members filed in to get their shot.
The entire room was filled with emotion, with few dry eyes. People cheered after each injection.
“These are the folks who for the past 10 months have not been slowing down,” said YVMC President Soniya Fidler.
They are the ones who have taken the most risk, she said, and worked through restrictive and ever-changing protocols, covered shifts when colleagues were quarantined and went home each day to their families not knowing whether they might have been exposed to the virus.
“To see this right now — for them to get this vaccine — is really phenomenal,” Fidler said.
Ruby Rose, a respiratory therapist who received the vaccine on Thursday afternoon, said her small department can’t afford to have any of their staff quarantined. “We don’t have room for people to be out. This is great — we can be safe and continue to take care of our patients.”
In being part of the first group across the nation to receive the vaccine, Fidler acknowledged there is risk and anxiety and she said it “takes someone special.”
“The amount of eagerness and excitement to be the first shows they’ve done the research,“ Fidler said. ”They trust the research. They trust what is happening from the science side of this.”
Never before in recent history has there been so much anticipation and emotion surrounding the contents of those vials and never before in history has science brought a vaccine so quickly to the public.
The process has also brought widespread skepticism.
Dr. Laila Powers, an emergency medicine physician who was the second person to receive the vaccine, was quick to address those concerns.
“A lot of people are worried about this being the messenger RNA,” she said, of the technology that is the platform for both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.
The technology has been around for several decades but has never before been used in an FDA-approved vaccine.
“It doesn’t enter the nucleus of the cell,” Powers said. “It doesn’t alter your DNA.”
The rapid development of the vaccine was a result of funding and prioritized resources, Powers added.
Both Powers and Weber said they did not hesitate for one second about getting the vaccine.
“There’s a lot of research that’s gone into these vaccines,” Weber said. “I hope people listen to the science and listen to the research and feel confident that this is one of the primary ways to get out of this — and get back to our ability to hug and laugh and spend quality time with each other.”
And its importance right now is critical, Weber said, “from a perspective of lost lives . . . and to the economy and what it has done to our financial burden.”
Al Tyler, an environmental services technician said his reaction to finding out he would receive a vaccine on the first day was, “Bring it on — any concern about the vaccine is far less than if I actually contracted the disease. It’s nothing anyone wants to go through. This is a step in the right direction, and I’m glad to be able to participate and make this work for everyone, and hopefully put at ease anyone else’s concerns and lack of trust.”
The first vaccines come a day after a number of COVID-19 records were set in the U.S. — a one-day death total of more than 3,600 people, along with record hospitalizations and new cases.
“Vaccines are critical in our global health,” Powers said. “This is the beginning of the way forward.”
The first batch of vaccines arrived at the hospital at 10:02 a.m. Wednesday.
Routt County frontline health care workers were allocated 580 doses, and vaccinations will be given over the next four days to hospital staff who fall into the 1A and 1B categories.
Staff and residents of long-term care facilities are part of the 1A group, however the federal government contracted with Walgreens to administer those vaccines. Their shipment has not yet arrived, said Brad Boatright, executive director of Casey’s Pond. The only date he said he has been given for the potential first clinic is Dec. 28.
Reaching the whole community with the vaccine is expected to be a lengthy process.
“The biggest thing I’d ask for is patience,” Fidler said. “It will take time, but it is coming.”
Fidler talked about the optimism she felt in “getting back to what we miss — going to events, being with friends and families.”
To “the dorky science kids from college who couldn’t go to the bar — thank them because they are saving the world,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Patrick Johnston, who was third in line for the vaccine.
“Things are going to get safer for people, and we are coming out of a hole here,” Johnston added.
“It might be early, but we are turning a corner — there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Eli Nykamp, director of operations and COVID-19 incident commander at the Steamboat Springs hospital. “It’s a long road to go. We still need to practice the five commitments. We are not out of the woods yet, but this is a momentous first step.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.