‘A turning of the tide:’ Frontline workers at PeaceHealth SW receive COVID-19 vaccine

The hospital received 4,000 doses in the first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine

VANCOUVER — To a round of applause, Schaeffer Seabrook, a registered nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, became the first frontline medical worker at the hospital to receive a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m stoked,” Seabrook said after receiving the injection on Wednesday morning. “It’s great.”

Registered Nurse Schaeffer Seabrook became the first PeaceHealth Southwest employee vaccinated for COVID-19. Photo via PeaceHealth Southwest Facebook page
Registered Nurse Schaeffer Seabrook became the first PeaceHealth Southwest employee vaccinated for COVID-19. Photo via PeaceHealth Southwest Facebook page

PeaceHealth Southwest, which is one of 17 sites in 13 Washington counties to serve as a staging area for the vaccine, received 4,000 doses earlier this week. The state received 64,200 doses in the first shipment on Monday, with a total of 222,000 doses expected before the end of the month.

“It feels amazing,” said Lawrence Neville, MD, chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Columbia Network. “I mean, it’s almost inexpressible with words, because I’ve been with these folks watching them as they do their daily work and trying to support the work that they do.”

The hospital plans to continue vaccinating healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic each morning at 9 a.m., with the next round happening at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview on Thursday.

“I think this is just an incredible step towards healing, towards getting life back to normal,” said Raymond Lee, MD, an emergency department physician who also received the vaccine on Wednesday. “To have something like this in what is the darkest hour of this pandemic? This marks a turning of the tide.”

Neville said doctors and nurses at the Vancouver hospital have cared for more than 450 COVID patients since the start of the pandemic. While care has improved greatly, leading to better outcomes for many patients, every loss takes a toll.

“I go out on rounds with our doctors and nurses regularly, and I hear from them, the emotional toll it’s taken on them to see all the patients afflicted by this pandemic,” Neville said. “And then unfortunately, the few that passed away really are indelibly imprinted on their minds in ways that they won’t soon forget.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at ultra cold temperatures of minus-80 degrees celsius (-112° fahrenheit) requires two doses, given 21 days apart. The drug maker also recommends people receiving the vaccine be monitored for at least 15 minutes to be sure there is no allergic reaction.

Seabrook admitted to a small amount of nervousness over receiving the vaccine, which is reportedly 95 percent effective at preventing infection after a second dose, but also reportedly comes with the small risk of some temporary side effects.

“I think there’s just the general fear of the unknown,” said Seabrook. “But I think as long as you’re well educated and you understand that this is the next step in this journey, then I think there’s confidence in that., and that helped me overcome it.”

Despite her nervousness, Seabrook said she hoped being first in line would serve as an example to others who are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

“If I’m going to tell other people to get it, I have to get it, right?” she said. “So I’m excited. I’m really excited.”

A second vaccine candidate from Moderna is due to potentially receive emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration as early as this week. That vaccine, which is reportedly over 94 percent effective, could begin shipping next week, and requires less rigorous cold storage.

Even with those vaccines representing a potential positive step towards ending the pandemic and returning to normal, Neville urged the community not to let their guard down just yet.

“When you get a chance to get the vaccine, please do,” he said. “But, like a lot of experts have said, it’s really important in the meantime to keep up with masking and social distancing and hand washing, because that’s what’s going to get us through until we get enough of the population vaccinated.”

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