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Nebraska hospitals administer state’s first COVID-19 vaccinations

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 12:29 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2020 at 3:10 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Omaha and Lincoln on Monday morning and were distributed hours later as the state began rolling out Phase 1A of its distribution plan.

About 3,900 doses arrived at 6:30 a.m. Monday at CHI-Bergan Mercy.

Around 3 p.m., Dr. Adam Highley, who works in pulmonary/critical care at CHI-Bergan Mercy, was the first to get a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination in Omaha, outside of the clinical trials that have been conducted here.

Up next was operating room nurse Heidi Darty.

“So many of my colleagues have fought hard to care for families,” she said. “We’re just as eager to get back to normal as the rest of the public.”

The vaccine is more than a shot in the arm. Five healthcare workers representing an industry of care took the next step to lead by example, sharing their perspectives in a Q&A session shortly after receiving their first-round COVID-19 vaccinations.

“It’s really unfortunate our partners and loved ones — to see people who have died from this,” said Dr. Adam Highley. “We already have a broken morale in the hospital, and talk about breaking more. But they still come together.”

Many made note of the long road they hope now moves quickly behind them.

“All the discussion that’s political, that’s not important to us. We just want to make sure it’s safe — and I’m convinced it is based on what I’ve read,” trauma surgeon Dr. Eric Kuncir said.

CHI Health – Bergan Mercy employees unpack vials containing some of Nebraska's first COVID-19...
CHI Health – Bergan Mercy employees unpack vials containing some of Nebraska's first COVID-19 vaccinations Monday morning, Dec. 14, 2020.(Courtesy of CHI Health)

The hospital pharmacy received four cases of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine — each vial holds five doses — and began unpacking it right away, placing it into the ultra-low freezer. They had three minutes to make the transfer from the original packaging in dry ice to their own freezers.

Packed with dry ice and a tracking device in boxes resembling pizza deliveries, several vials were removed from the freezer and put into a refrigerator to thaw in preparation for their use later in the day.

“It is hope in a bottle, an early Christmas present for all of us who have been dealing with the COVID pandemic,” said Mike Tiesi, vice president of CHI-Bergan Mercy’s pharmacy.

To critical ICU nurse Amanda Clanton, it definitely was.

“I feel extremely blessed and grateful. I’ve been praying for this since March,” she said. “We’re all exhausted, and there’s light now at the end of the tunnel.”

Dr. Sebastian Lane, a family medicine resident, said he was glad to be among the first because he understands the power of a picture — and what it says to others, particularly among those communities that remain skeptical about the vaccine.

“I wanted to get the vaccine to be an example. I’ve tried to lead my life by example, whether it’s being an African-American doctor, which is a rarity,” he said. “There’s been a lot of distrust built up over the last few months. We’re willing to take the risk and that demonstrates you should be willing as well.”

CHI Health – Bergan Mercy employees unpack vials containing some of Nebraska's first COVID-19...
CHI Health – Bergan Mercy employees unpack vials containing some of Nebraska's first COVID-19 vaccinations Monday morning, Dec. 14, 2020.(Courtesy of CHI Health)

According to CHI, the vaccine can last up to five days prior to use. The hospital has been instructed to use all of the doses and not hold any back to the second dose, which will be given 21 days later.

Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer, said Monday that the state is on track to receive 104,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month; a little more than 15,000 of those are expected to arrive by Wednesday.

Dr. Michael Tiese says doses may be distributed to other facilities in the area. CHI is currently working on a plan to get staff vaccinated.

The state medical director says they’re being told that Nebraska is still on target to receive 104,000 doses by the end of the year. This is the Pfizer and Moderna vaccination. The first shipment to Nebraska is expected to be around 15,600. The rest of this week’s allotment is expected in the next 24-48 hours.

Dr. Adam Highley, who works in critical received the first shot. Five frontline workers also stepped forward to get the shot.

“I feel extremely blessed and grateful. I’ve been praying for this since March. We’re all exhausted and there’s light now at the end of the tunnel,” said Amanda Clanton, a critical ICU nurse.

More at-risk health care workers will be getting their shots, ramping up to 1,000 a day.

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations had also arrived Monday in Lincoln with more expected Tuesday morning and throughout the week. The first doses were administered at 12:30 p.m. today at Bryan Health.

“This is a dose of hope for our community,” Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said in a news release Monday evening. “Thank you to all those who have made this long-awaited day possible. We encourage everyone to be immunized as soon as the vaccine becomes available to them. "

Bryan Health officials said because of the sub-zero temperatures required for storing the vaccine, it’s likely many of the state’s rural areas will receive Nebraska’s allocations of the Moderna vaccine, which is still awaiting FDA approval.

“Hope, excitement, as I mentioned my wife almost euphoria, what I’ve told a lot of people is that this is the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Kevin Reichmuth of Bryan Health. “I think we still have a relatively long tunnel to get through, but I hope this is really the beginning of the end of this.”

KOLN 10/11 Now contributed to this report.

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