As the pandemic declared over the novel coronavirus continued to impact the community, state, nation and world, news broke about vaccines awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA approval triggered millions of vaccine doses being distributed across the country with priority administration given to the first “tier” of recipients — front line health care workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients and long-term care facility staff and residents.

Once shipments began to arrive in Colorado, health care workers and congregant living residents had to decide if they were willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine that had been developed quickly.

Pandemic plan implementation

Montrose Memorial Hospital staff had prepared for a pandemic years in advance, making implementation of their plan more seamless.

Mary Rasmusson, director of education and co-lead for emergency management at Montrose Memorial Hospital (MMH), said the hospital had a pandemic plan in place prior to last spring that allowed them to implement strategies that were effective.

“We’ve planned for this for four years now,” Rasmusson said. “It’s been a focus at the state for hospitals and public health to be looking at outbreak/pandemic-type situations. We’ve been evaluating, testing and practicing and now we’re actually working through our processes that we’ve built.”

The Stop the Flu Bug initiative MMH held last fall was part of that process.

“Having those plans in place allows us to respond quickly,” Megan McBrayer, an infection preventionist at MMH. “Our plans include resources that are needed for something like this, basic job descriptions. It just makes it easier for us to be able to stand something up like this quickly because we prefaced it and knew the amount of people it takes to make it work.”

Rasmusson said the hospital worked with the state to become a vaccination site for the hospital and providers as well as filled out paperwork to order vaccines. The hospital is following the state’s guidelines when determining staff who has priority for receiving the vaccine.

Receiving the Moderna vaccine

Jessie Reines, a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at MMH, has worked in the medical field for eight years, 4.5 of which have been at MMH. Her passion for helping others inspired her to pursue a career in the healthcare field. After learning about vaccines coming out and front line healthcare employees would be first in line, Reines said she experienced mixed emotions.

“I think it’s a really great idea to give us the prevention since we’re seeing a lot of the COVID population in the hospital, but given our adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), I think we’re well protected,” Reines said. “The people who are less protected are the people who are out in the community. That’s why I felt a little conflicted because I felt like some of our older people should be getting it first, but that’s sort of the selflessness of nurses, too.”

Signing up for a vaccination was seamless and Reines was able to get her first dosage of the Moderna vaccine within a couple days of its arrival at the hospital.

“I kind of teared up,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting, honestly. There’s a sense of relief.”

Once the dosage was administered, the staff had to wait 15 minutes before returning to their duties to ensure no adverse reactions.

While Reines is relieved she is one step closer to helping reduce the spread of the virus, her focus still remains on making sure people in the community are protected.

“More so I just want the whole general public to be protected,” she said.

Some people in the community may hesitate to receive the vaccine, considering the expedited development and distribution of it, but Reines hopes people feel comfortable getting the vaccine.

“There’s a lot of apprehension amongst people, even some in the health care industry, about what it might do to your body, but it’s really just sending a message to your body to fight off this infection futuristically,” Reines said.

Reines will receive her second dose on Jan. 20.

“I know you have to give it a couple of weeks to build up your immunity, but I’m not going to do anything differently afterwards until we have herd immunity,” she said. “It doesn’t make us exempt from the problem to get it. The vaccine isn’t the end all, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

MMH will begin scheduling staff for the second administration booster in the coming weeks.

As the vaccines become available to additional populations in the coming months, McBrayer explained why the Moderna vaccine must remain chilled, because when the protein warms up, it becomes less stable.

“The protein is pretty delicate, so it’s surrounded by a fat to help keep it safe,” she said. “It’s kind of like a sponge around the protein, but it’s made out of fat. Fat at room temperature starts to melt just like butter would or oil when it’s frozen versus not.”

The state of Colorado is currently administering Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations to people within the Phase 1A and 1B tiers. Coloradans age 70 and older, health care workers with less direct contact with COVID-19 patients, firefighters, police, COVID-19 response personnel, correctional workers and funeral services are classified under Phase 1B. The state added frontline essential workers in several industries, government officials and frontline journalists to the list for Phase 1 eligibility.

Pfizer vaccine administration

Valley Manor Care Center, a Volunteers of America long-term care facility held its first COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Wednesday, Jan. 6. Forty-seven residents and 51 staff members received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Tonya Mora, medical records director and transportation and supply management manager at Valley Manor Care Center, was one of the first staff members to receive a dose during the clinic Wednesday.

Ahead of receiving her first dose, Mora said she was concerned about how her body would react to the vaccine.

“The only concern I had was that I am allergic to the cold and with the vaccine being kept in such cold conditions, I just wondered if I might have a reaction to it,” she said. “But that would still not stop me from getting the vaccine.”

Wednesday’s vaccine clinic made Mora excited as we enter a new phase in the pandemic, something she has been ready for since last March when the world went into lockdown. She also was relieved knowing she was doing her part to keep others safe.

“I am glad to be able to receive the vaccine, mostly because I want our residents and family to be able to be with each other again,” Mora said. “My family and I have always wanted the vaccine and I feel I need to do my part to help protect both my family and residents and co-workers to stay safe and healthy. As soon as both my husband and children can get the vaccine, they will be very happy to get it also.”

Valley Manor resident Eva Morris also received a dose, despite her family having mixed thoughts.

“I felt really excited and nervous,” Morris said. “The boys said, ‘no’ and the girls said, ‘yes,’ so I just did it myself.”

Morris expressed support for the center being proactive to take care of residents and staff by getting vaccines to administer. She also said the process was “a wonderful experience.”

“I didn’t feel a thing, not even the needle going in,” she said. “Normally, you feel a little prick or something when the needle goes in. Here I didn’t even know I was finished until they put that sticker on me.”

Morris said she also didn’t experience any soreness afterward or other adverse side effects.

Although herd immunity will still take time to achieve, Morris is hopeful the vaccine is a step in the right direction.

“I feel hopeful that this might help this thing go away,” she said. “I’m glad I got it done.”

Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Montrose Daily Press.

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