SALT LAKE CITY – Five University of Utah Health employees and four Intermountain Healthcare employees became the first Utahns to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial on Tuesday.
The vaccinations took place Tuesday at the University of Utah Hospital and Intermountain LDS Hospital. Christy Mulder, a United States intensive care nurse, was the first person to receive the vaccine in Utah. & Health officials said on Twitter.
US health care assistant Diana Navarrete, environmental service worker Maria Cuevas, emergency medicine Dr. Stephen Hartsell and respiratory therapist Brad Thompson were vaccinated shortly after Mulder on Tuesday morning.
“It’s an overwhelming day today, lots of emotion,” Mulder said during a press conference on Tuesday after the vaccinations. “I look forward to this next step to end this painful pandemic.”
Intermountain LDS Hospital staff Monte Roberts, Amanda Vicchrilli, William Brunt and Sophie Woodbury received the vaccine just after 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Roberts, who was visibly emotional after becoming the first Intermountain employee to be vaccinated, said it was an exhausting battle to see patients affected by COVID-19. The disease affects everyone, young and old, and it won’t go away, he said.
Roberts said he was excited to receive the vaccine not only to protect himself, but also to protect his patients, family and community.
“It’s huge because it provides light,” he said during an Intermountain press conference shortly after his vaccination. “We can beat this. We will get through this together.”
“Herculean Efforts” to Start Vaccinations
Frontline health workers will be the first to receive the vaccine this month. Long-term care facility residents and staff, as well as teachers, will also be in the first wave of Utahns to be vaccinated, health officials said. 154,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Utah this month.
Kavish Choudhary, senior director of U. Health Pharmacy, described Tuesday’s “Herculean effort” to prepare the vaccine for administration.
The vaccine arrived in a surprisingly small box around 7 a.m. on Tuesday, he said. The cans were shipped to U. Hospital about an hour later and had to be kept in a freezer for about two hours before they could be administered, he added.
“Kind of like a whirlwind morning,” said Choudhary.
Choudhary said about 25 to 30 more U. health workers will be vaccinated on Tuesday. Hundreds of other workers will be vaccinated on Wednesday.
On Thursday and Friday, the U. will expand to open a larger vaccination clinic for workers, Choudhary added. These clinics will have 15 people giving the vaccine and they will be able to vaccinate a worker every 10-15 minutes, he said.
The pharmacy staff are still getting used to the COVID-19 vaccine bottles, which are different from the ones they are used to. Therefore, the introduction of the vaccine will be gradual, Choudhary said.
At Intermountain, 50 LDS hospital employees were due to receive doses on Tuesday, Dr. Kristin Dascomb, Medical Director of Infection Prevention in Healthcare at Intermountain Healthcare. Intermountain’s Intermountain Medical Center and Intermountain’s Utah Valley Hospital will also receive doses of the vaccine soon, she said.
“We are grateful to share this hope with our caregivers,” said Dascomb.
The University of Utah Hospital, LDS Hospital, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah Valley Hospital, and Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George are the five Utah hospitals that have ultra-cold storage facilities in which The COVID-19 Vaccine Can Be Housed Five facilities will receive doses of the vaccine first.
Other intermountain facilities, like Alta View Hospital in Sandy, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, and Logan Regional Hospital, will eventually receive doses, Dascomb added.
Health workers grateful for vaccination
Hartsell said the vaccine was “probably one of the best Christmas presents we’ve ever received”.
“It’s a historic day,” he said.
Mulder said that while death has always been part of ICU work, COVID-19 has something else. It is painful to see patients suffer for so long, she said.
“That weight just feels heavier over time,” Mulder said. But being able to get the vaccine made her feel hopeful, she added.
“It’s really encouraging, and it really feels like a lost weight,” Mulder said. “It’s so special to be a part of it.”
Woodbury, who has worked at LDS hospital for about five years, said vaccination would help her own state of mind.
Until now, workers couldn’t give much hope to COVID-19 patients who are struggling, she said. But knowing that there is a vaccine that can protect people from the disease will allow her to treat her patients with more kindness and hope, Woodbury added.
“Today is a hopeful day,” she said. “I know there will be an end.”
She said she now plans to talk about the vaccine’s benefits and help people make good decisions to get it.
“I feel a bit like an ambassador now,” she said.
Utahns urged them to remain vigilant
Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who oversaw vaccinations at the U. Hospital and LDS Hospital, said it was hard to believe that she only attended a conference call with federal disease experts a year ago about a novel coronavirus.
Now there is a vaccine, said Dunn.
“This is a huge, meaningful day that brings me so much joy and pride,” she said during Intermountain’s press conference Thursday. “We have an amazing state that has come together.”
Utah did not experience the post-Thanksgiving surge predicted by Thanksgiving, Dunn added.
“We’re in a much better place today than I thought,” she said.
That being said, Utah is heading into a different holiday season and colder months ahead, Dunn said. And while Utah didn’t see a huge spike after Thanksgiving, the state still reports about 2,000 cases a day, which is too many, she said. Case numbers in this area mean that the hospitals are still working to full capacity.
That’s why it’s more important now than ever to keep wearing masks, social distancing, staying home when sick, and practicing whatever other public health measures officials recommended during the pandemic, Dunn said.
At least 50% of Utahns need to be vaccinated in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, and a vaccination rate of 70-80% is more ideal, Dunn said. Vaccines are not expected to be available to the general public until summer 2021. She therefore urged people to remain vigilant to prevent the disease from spreading in the meantime.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel – we’re just not quite there yet,” said Dunn. “It’s so important that we keep dropping our cases.”