The light at the end of the tunnel moved a little closer for some health care workers at Methodist Fremont Health on Wednesday as they were among the first in the area to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
The hospital received approximately 200 doses of the Pfizer-BionNTech COVID-19 Vaccine from the Methodist Health System on Tuesday. In total, the health system, which encompasses three campuses between Fremont and Omaha, received 1,775 doses of the vaccine.
Angela Meiergerd, a registered nurse at Methodist Fremont Health, was the first employee at the hospital to receive the vaccine.
She works in the emergency room, where Meiergerd said the hospital can see anywhere from seven to 10 positive COVID-19 patients on a daily basis.
“I think it’s a huge relief,” Meiergerd, a mother of two, said. “I am very concerned about bringing it home to my family.”
Throughout the pandemic, Meiergerd said she and her husband have avoided any contact with other members of the family who are elderly or have an underlying health condition.
“I miss them terribly,” she said. “So, the opportunity to potentially see them, with a mask on still to protect them, is huge. It brings tears of relief to my eyes.”
Meiergerd is one of approximately 350 individuals who have been identified as key frontline workers at the hospital who will receive the vaccine first.
Dr. Jason Dinsmoor, an internal medicine specialist at Methodist Fremont Health, said receiving the vaccine is an opportunity he’s proud to be apart of.
“I think it’s important to be a good role model for the community, to kind of show that this is what we need to do to take the next steps forward,” he said. “I don’t know if people ever go back to the way they were, but this is, you know, a big step in the right direction to try and get back to normal.”
Dinsmoor serves a dual role, seeing both healthy people in the clinic while also taking shifts day and night at the hospital.
“So, I think one important factor is when you’re in the hospital, you have the proper PPE, so you can try and protect yourself,” he said. “I think this is just an added measure that can help me protect the healthy people while in the clinic.”
Dinsmoor said the last nine months have been difficult, especially for those working in the health care field. The vaccine may serve as a sign of hope, but he reiterated that the virus still remains a threat.
“This does provide a light at the end of the tunnel and this doesn’t mean it’s over yet, but we are headed in the right direction,” Dinsmoor said. “I think this is really good to get us back to normal. I don’t think it’s going to be immediate, but I think it provides some hope for sure.”
The doses of the vaccine that arrived in Fremont today represent some of the 15,600 Pfizer vaccines that are expected to arrive across the state by the end of the week.
Dr. Angela Sukstorf, an infectious disease specialist at Methodist Fremont Health, will receive her vaccination soon. She said the mood at the hospital was one of excitement as distribution began.
“These people were really excited to get the vaccine and I think they’re somewhat proud to be the first ones to get it and to be such good examples to the rest of the healthcare provider community,” she said.
The vaccinations come at a time when the hospital is full of patients suffering from COVID-19, Sukstorf said. With new patients arriving every single day, she said the situation can become overwhelming for the frontline workers at the hospital.
With the vaccine in hand, she is hopeful that will change in the future.
“We’re very hopeful that it’s going to slow down things a little bit, because all these health care workers have been working very hard, taking extra shifts and extra time away from their families and taking risks,” she said. “I think they’re looking forward to getting a little easier day at work.”
Sukstorf said healthcare workers represent an invaluable resource to the community amidst the pandemic, making the decision to inoculate those individuals first an easy one.
“We’re choosing these valuable people to vaccine first, and not that everyone else is invaluable, but we need to protect these people first,” she said.
Ann Schlichting, a registered nurse at Dunklau Gardens, the hospital’s long-term care and skilled nursing facility, also received her vaccination Wednesday.
She said the vaccine is a measure of relief for the elderly residents at Dunklau Gardens, who haven’t been able to visit family or interact with people outside the facility during the pandemic.
“I think this means a lot,” she said. “... The more we get people vaccinated and the more we can get a handle on this, the more they can get back to some of their activities with one another.”
Schlichting said the vaccine also goes a long way in providing an extra level of protection for the nursing facility’s residents.
“To say that, ‘hey I have a vaccine that’s going help protect you even more,’ is going to help them to know that they’re trying to get safer, even be more safe than what we’re doing now for them,” she said.