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First Topeka healthcare workers receive COVID vaccine

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 9:03 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - On Wednesday, Stormont Vail became the first hospital in Topeka to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to some of its front line health care workers.

For months, Stormont has provided updates on the hospitals COVID-19 situation.

CEO Dr. Robert Kenagy said, “We’ve gathered together many times to talk about percent positive on tests, our capacity at the hospital, how it’s stressed our team, how it’s impacted patients, their lives and our community.”

Wednesday was a time for optimism though as Nurse Practitioner, Andrew Barnes, offered his arm and became the first Topeka health care worker to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“This just provides a little bit of stress relief knowing it’s available and we can receive it,” Barnes said.

Front line health care workers are the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Topeka and those are being administered at a health clinic set up inside the Stormont Vail Events Center’s Exhibition Hall.

Dr. Sridevi Donepudi, Sr. Vice President and Chief Medical Quality Officer at Stormont, explained why health care workers were given first priority.

“They have a higher level of exposure because they are taking care of these patients every day, so they have a very high risk of contracting the disease,” she continued saying, “The second piece is to preserve the capacity of our community to continue to take care of patients as they get sick. If we don’t have the health care workers to take care of folks that need to be hospitalized, that need that high level of care, then we’re in a worse spot.”

Kenagy was filled with emotion Wednesday morning ahead of the first vaccine saying, “It feels so incredibly positive to begin this journey to end this pandemic.”

Julie Snyder, a nurse in Stormont’s Medical ICU said she’s seen firsthand the toll the virus takes on her patients.

“Seeing them not survive, being by themselves and having their family maybe watch through a camera, it is hell,” she continued saying, “It’s horrible, it’s disheartening, especially when you see it over and over.”

Snyder is hoping her vaccine is a step toward fewer tragic endings.

“It feels amazing to be a part of that and to be able to start to take responsibility for safety, for not only myself, but the people that are going to be around me,” she said.

While the long-term effects of the vaccine are still not known, both Barnes and Snyder said they are confident in their decisions.

“After seeing what I’ve seen these past several months, I would rather have side effects from this vaccine than go through what any of those people in the ICU have been going through,” Snyder said.

Barnes added, “It’s a very resilient virus. There’s no rhyme or reason or typical course for it. It effects everybody differently. Fortunately, a vaccine should help offer immunity from this virus and just really bring that fear back down and let us get back to living.”

Each health care worker vaccinated on Wednesday will return in 21 days for their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Stormont said they don’t expect another shipment for their workers until after that, as the next one the KDHE receives is expected to go to nursing home residents.

Stormont Vail is not requiring its front line workers to get the vaccine at this time, since it has only been approved by the FDA for emergency authorization use. However, Dr. Donepudi said about 70% of them said they will.

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