Ascension Via Christi administers first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to hospital staff

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Ascension Via Christi in Manhattan became one of the first Kansas hospitals of its size on Wednesday to administer the new COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer.

About 30 doses were given out to hospital staff, which will be followed up by a second dose on Jan. 6.

Staff who are first in line to receive the vaccine are those who interact directly with COVID-19 positive patients.

“For us, that’s our emergency room, our ICU, our medical unit in particular, but then also kind of all the other support departments because our respiratory therapist, our pharmacist, our house keepers – everyone is interacting with these COVID patients,” Bob Copple, Ascension Via Christi president, said.

According to Copple, the vaccine is being administered on a voluntary basis largely because of the limited supply of doses. Despite the vaccine not being mandatory, he expects most of his staff to opt in.

“If you work here, you’ve seen what this looks like and you understand how important it is,” Copple said.

Some hospital employees have decided to opt out of getting vaccinated due to being part of populations that were not involved in the vaccine trials, such as pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Doses will continue to come in over the next couple of weeks as shipments are distributed around the country.

Even with the increased levels of immunity among hospital staff as a result of the vaccine, Copple says Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will continue to be in use for the foreseeable future. This is due in part to the effectiveness of PPE when it comes to protecting staff and patients from other illnesses.

“I don’t believe we’ve had a single flu case yet this year in our hospital,” Copple said. “We would attribute that to people wearing masks in our community. That’s a huge, huge win.”

He says wearing PPE will also protect those who remain vulnerable to a COVID-19 infection even after receiving the vaccine.

While the vaccine arriving in Manhattan is a step in the right direction, it likely will not be available to the public for several months.

When that time comes, Kevin Oehme, Ascension Via Christi pharmacy director, says it should be available at local pharmacies.

“The Kansas Board of Pharmacy has allowed for pharmacists to give this COVID vaccine,” Oehme said. “They have also allowed for specially trained pharmacy technicians, which is one of the first that I’ve seen.”

For members of the public who are skeptical of the vaccine, Oehme says he recommends getting it. However, he does caution that it has potential side effects.

“The first dose tends to produce arm soreness, possible fever,” Oehme said. “You see more patients experiencing those mild symptoms with the second dose than with the first, actually.”

While the distribution of the vaccine will be a gradual process that could take longer than some like, it is a sign of hope for many hospital staff that have been treating severely ill COVID-19 positive patients for several months.

For many, the vaccine resembles the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

“To see this day come is a day that we’ve been waiting on since the beginning of this,” Oehme said. “It’s come much sooner than we anticipated. That just really brings us a lot of hope at this point.”

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