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GALENA–The Vista Cafe at Midwest Medical Center has been quiet over the past nine months as COVID-19 restrictions limited services in this usually bustling place.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, it seemed as if Christmas came a bit early as nurses looked down from a second-floor window in the in-patient wing. The cafe was abuzz with excitement as a handful of the hospital’s front-line employees filled out forms and patiently waited for their turn to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s a scene that repeated itself the following two days.
Last week, the hospital received 16 vials of the much anticipated Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, enough to provide 111 vaccinations to staff members, as well as Drs. Greg Vandigo, Mary Koenigs, and Dr. Allen Crist from Medical Associates.
Dr. Ralph Losey, an emergency room physician who is the hospital’s chief medical officer, received the first dose. Emergency room nurse Jean Petsche, Galena, received the second.
In three weeks they, and all the others, will receive their second dose.
“This is exciting. This is a great day,” Losey said after his vaccination.
Tracy Bauer, Midwest Medical Center CEO, thought this was an exciting and interesting day, as well. She admitted to walking with a bit more “pep in her step” that day. She also served as the “official” photographer/videographer for doctors and nurses who wanted their vaccination documented. Bauer couldn’t wait to show Losey the photos she took on his cell phone.
“There is an excitement in our organization–that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Bauer stated. “It was so nice to see the smiles and feel the sense of relief. These folks have been carrying a heavy load since the pandemic started.”
The importance of this moment wasn’t lost on Losey.
Since the very start, he’s believed that the pandemic wouldn’t be resolved until a significant number of people were vaccinated. He believes he’s witnessed “medical history.”
“I thought two years would be a fast turnaround for a vaccine. To develop a vaccine in eight months–well–that is phenomenal. It is medical history. We are living in a time of a medical miracle as opposed to a time of medieval disaster.”
The vaccine, he says will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States alone. Without a vaccine, he believes it would take about four years for the virus to burn its way through the population.
As for Midwest Medical Center, the top priority vaccination candidates were the clinicians who come into contact with infected patients in the emergency room as well as floor nurses, physicians, operating room nurses and housekeeping.
Bauer said there was enough vaccine to inoculate any front-line staff member who wanted.
“We are not mandating vaccination for staff. We want them to make their own decisions and do their own research,” she added.
Losey reflects as he watches his coworkers patiently waiting for their turn. He’s surprised that he hasn’t contracted COVID-19 already. He’s in the high risk, high contact group for infection.
“This is a truly happy day for me,” he says.
Receiving the vaccine “was just like getting a flu shot,” he says. “No pain. The only sensation I had was just when the needle stuck.”
For him, it was less painful than having blood drawn.
Losey figures that at least 12,000 of Jo Daviess County’s 21,000 residents need to be vaccinated in order to create the herd immunity necessary to ease the virus’ grip. He continues, if all goes well, and if additional vaccines come onto the market, this could be achieved by the end of April if people receive vaccinations when available.
“We have the capability of doing 100 vaccinations a day at multiple sites,” he said.
Losey is also hoping the vaccination process can start before New Year’s with EMS personnel. Those living in nursing and senior care facilities may have to wait a bit longer as CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are still waiting on their vaccine supply from the state.
Losey also believes that this year’s COVID-19 vaccination isn’t a one shot deal, so to speak. Over the next five years, Losey believes COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations will be offered at the same time.