From The Star Press
MUNCIE, Ind. — After being the first frontline worker in Muncie to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine early Friday morning, Douglas Kuxhausen gave his fellow team members at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital a thumbs-up.
Kuxhausen, a physician in the hospital’s emergency department, has been battling COVID-19 since March. Earlier in the pandemic, things seemed much slower, he said. But as restrictions were lifted, Ball Memorial has seen an increase in both COVID-19 and regular patients.
On Wednesday, the hospital was treating 68 COVID-positive patients. Officials told The Star Press that the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) has been consistently running at 90% capacity for the past several weeks, with 40-50% COVID patients.
Its occupancy fluctuates up and down often, and there are plans in place to expand quickly if the need arises, officials added.
For him, it felt like any other vaccine. While it is new, Kuxhausen didn’t feel any hesitation when signing up for it.
“I figured we’ve been making vaccines for quite some time, and it’s not really a change in the way they’re making them, it’s just a newer pathogen that we’re using,” Kuxhausen said. “I looked into their methods with their research and all of that, so I was pretty comfortable in doing that.”
IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital received 975 vaccines on Thursday and expects a weekly supply in the near future. On Friday, a total of 314 vaccination appointments were scheduled, with six team members scheduled to receive their doses every 10 minutes.
“It’s a relief to finally be getting something that will maybe slow everything down,” Kuxhausen said.
Relief for BMH team members
First-year emergency department nurse Anita Nguyen was also one of the first to receive the vaccine locally. Emotions were running high as she went to the clinic at the hospital’s south tower.
Getting the vaccine was almost liberating for her, as she hopes it pushes the pandemic into its next phase.
“Hopefully, if enough people get it and our community starts to build an immunity to this virus, things can start to go back to normal,” Nguyen said.
While she felt honored to be one of the first to receive it, Nguyen said she understands a little bit of hesitancy due to to how fast the vaccine was produced and distributed.
“The FDA and government will not release something that isn’t safe for us to take. There’s no conspiracy behind that,” Nguyen said. “I can understand why people are scared. It’s new.”
As he checked in on the clinic this morning, Jeff Bird, president of IU Health’s East Central Region, said the excitement in the room was almost palpable. By noon, the clinic was continuing to run smoothly.
“Just to see the joy and relief in the faces of the people that were there waiting,” Bird said. “It’s a big deal for us.”
Starting Dec. 18, Ball Memorial will be distributing the vaccine seven days a week, except for holidays, by appointment only. The vaccine requires two doses to be effective, with administration spaced 21-28 days apart. After completing their first vaccine, team members will immediately set up their second vaccination appointment.
Like others, the IU Health system did not make the vaccine mandatory. For those who didn’t want to sign up to be the first, Bird expects them to change their mind in the next few weeks.
“We’re highly encouraging all of our staff to take the shot, but we are understanding that there’s still people who are reticent,” Bird said. “As well as it’s been studied, we believe that it’s a highly effective, very safe, vaccine.”
“It recognizes one of these unique spikes on the outside of the COVID-19 virus and it causes our body’s own immune system to recognize that spike and to mount an immune response to it,” Bird said. “So, if we do then get exposed to it, our body’s immune system is already ramped up and ready to attack it.”
Once things progress next week and the second vaccine is approved, Bird said he expects that the majority of high-risk teammates at the hospital are going to have the opportunity to get vaccinated by Christmas day.
Robert Byrn, an IU Health Riley pediatrician in Muncie, also felt a relieved once he got the vaccine Friday morning.
While he works in an outpatient clinic with children, he still sees many COVID-19 cases, and for months, he’s been trying to find the safest way to get those children back into school and sports.
Getting the vaccine was an emotional experience for Byrn as he thought of people the vaccine would help. It could help grandparents go to their grandchildren’s birthday parties again, and families could get together for holidays.
“As a pediatrician, we get to see every day the miracles of our vaccine program,” Byrn said. “We know that there are children who go on to lead a full, healthy, productive life, who otherwise wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the childhood immunizations.”
Like others, Byrn had no hesitation in signing up for the vaccine. In terms of technology used, he said it’s a safer vaccine than those in the past. For those with concerns, he suggests speaking with a trusted primary care doctor.
“It comes down to a pretty simple choice,” Burn said. “I think the vaccine is safer than getting the virus.”
Others wait for Phase 1B
While frontline workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities were first to receive the vaccine this week in Phase 1A of the Indiana Department of Health’s (ISDH) vaccine distribution plan, other health care providers wait for Phase 1B.
One local healthcare system, Meridian Health Services, is on the list for that second wave of vaccines, as Phase 1B covers community mental health centers and the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC’s). Open Door Health Services is also included in this phase.
School nurses also will be part of Phase 1B, said Andy Klotz, chief communications officer at Muncie Community Schools. They will be notified by the ISDH on when to schedule the COVID-19 vaccine, which should be within the next couple of weeks, Klotz added.
Lisa Suttle, regional vice president of clinical services at Meridian Health Services, said the next phase hinges on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Moderna vaccine, which was given panel support on Thursday. With its approval, Suttle said Meridian could receive and distribute vaccines next week.
Enough vaccines were requested for Meridian’s 1,200 employees to get both the initial and second vaccine, Suttle said, but currently, it is unknown how many will be received.
Employees wanting the vaccine will soon sign up through the ISDH’s system, and vaccines will be distributed at Meridian’s nine sites.
“Once we receive those and know the amount, if it’s less than what we asked for, we will triage the risk of who will need them now, who works the closest to the patients, and then go back from there,” Suttle said.
COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandated for Meridian employees, but just like flu vaccinations, they will be offered to everyone. In the coming weeks, officials will begin to educate both employees and the community about the vaccine.
Charisse Hinds, infection control and director of nursing at Meridian Health Services, said they will be working on the three C’s; confidence, complacency and convenience of the vaccine. As confidence and trust in providers grows, education will help address complacency with the vaccine, Hinds said.
“Many are telling us it’s really more about ‘I want to see what happens with others before I take it,'” Suttle said. “They’re just kind of hesitant. They’re not saying no completely, they’re just saying, ‘I want to wait a little bit.'”
To help ease hesitancy, Meridian will be taking photos and following up with medical team members who receive the vaccine.
“We’re going to be sending out information, just like I’ve seen nationally on the TV today, of how those people are doing once they receive the injection,” Suttle said. “That will take us far. That will take us very far in terms of confidence.”
When will the vaccine be available to the public?
Bird said based on current vaccine numbers and when the Moderna shot is officially approved and on the market, there may be opportunities for high-risk people in the community and others to be able to sign up for the vaccine in mid- to late January.
“I’m so excited for our team, and I’m so excited for the country and the world, that we’ve got this vaccine now and we’re going to be able to get on top of the spread of the virus,” Bird said.
Hinds has frequently been asked if people still need to wear a mask if they’ve been vaccinated, or if they still need to be vaccinated after already contracting COVID-19.
Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, just about everyone needs to get the vaccine, even if they previously had the virus. The vaccine will not initially be available for children under 16. Early clinical trials of the vaccine show no adverse effects for pregnant women, but pregnant women should speak with their healthcare providers about the vaccine.
So far, side effects have been minimal, with site injection soreness and general malaise, which is completely normal, Hinds said. For those who have concerns, Suttle said they should speak with their primary care providers, and if they do experience side effects, to continue to have open communication.
“This is really a monumental time in history and when it’s time, definitely, we want shots in our arms to protect not only our patients but our families and peers in our social circles,” Hinds said.
For more vaccine information, visit iuhealth.org/covid19.