Susan Lewis, surgery manager at Allen County Regional Hospital, was the first in Allen County to receive the COVID-19 vaccination Thursday morning.
“I didn’t know that I’d be first in line when I opted in to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, but am proud to be among those leading the charge against this virus,” said Lewis, an RN. “In the surgery department, I come into contact with patients when they are sick and most vulnerable. It’s critical that I do my part to care for and protect those patients, and getting the vaccine is one more way I can do that.”
The hospital received 45 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this week and began administering them Thursday and Friday, with more planned today. The hospital expects to receive more vaccines in the coming weeks, and plans to vaccinate all medical staff who want a shot within the next six weeks.
The vaccine likely won’t be available to the general public until late spring or early summer. The CDC and Kansas Department of Health and Environment are prioritizing shots for front-line healthcare workers and those who live in nursing homes. It’s expected the state will also set its next priority on essential workers, such as those who work in meatpacking plants, prisons and grocery stores.
The FDA yesterday approved a second vaccine, from drug-maker Moderna, which will be easier to administer because it does not require as extreme cold temperatures for storage. It was not yet known when that vaccine would become available in the local area.
Prioritizing healthcare workers will allow hospitals to keep staff healthy to care for patients, Traci Plumlee, marketing director for ACRH and the Saint Luke’s Health System, said. Hospitals across the state reported they consistently operate at capacity.
Dr. Brian Neely, with ACRH’s Iola Clinic, also received the vaccine Thursday, as did Dr. Timothy Spears with The Family Physicians and an emergency room physician at ACRH.
“Like everyone else, I’m ready to be done with this,” Neely said. “I’ve followed the studies and the outcomes are very good for both safety and efficacy. I believe that this is the best chance we have of beating this virus. I opted to get vaccinated to be a part of that fight, and to help protect my patients and my family.”
Spears said several patients have asked him about the vaccine, and he wanted to serve as an example for others.
“It’s encouraging that community members are eager for their turn.”
Meanwhile, it’s important to continue wearing your mask, stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently, Plumlee said. It will take time to complete the vaccination process, so it’s likely those measures will be needed for several months.
Even with the vaccine, nurses and doctors will continue wearing personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, Plumlee said.
ALLEN COUNTY’S COVID-19 case total grew to 542 Friday, according to KDHE. That’s an increase of 29 cases from Wednesday’s total of 513.
The county currently has 61 active cases, according to the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Departments.
The health department had been reporting the number of active cases Monday through Thursday, but will reduce the reporting schedule to daily, on Wednesdays starting on Dec. 23 through Jan. 6 to allow staff to take time with their families during the holidays, Director Rebecca Johnson announced Thursday.
The regular reporting will resume Jan. 11.
“We will still have staff working on disease investigations and contact tracing during this time when new COVID-19 positive lab results are sent to us, but will not be working with a full crew during the next few weeks,” Johnson said.
“We appreciate our residents’ patience with their county health department during these trying times and hope you understand the needed time off. “