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Health care workers are first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Utah

University of Utah Health is administering the first COVID-19 vaccine in the state of Utah. (Photo credit: UofU Health)

SALT LAKE CITY– A handful of University of Utah health care workers are among the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the state. After a long-anticipated wait, five frontline workers were given the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday.

 

During a news conference, the health care professionals explain why they’ve decided to get vaccinated and how the shot will help them better care for patients during the pandemic. Additionally, health care experts discuss the vaccination rollout plan for the U of U Health system now that the vaccine has arrived.

 

The first Utahn to get the Pfizer vaccine was University of Utah Medical ICU Nurse Christy Mulder.  She says she loves serving her community, but treated COVID-19 patients is physically and emotionally exhausting.  So, to her, this vaccine feels like a massive weight off her shoulders.

Mulder said, “I’m excited for this next step that we’re taking to end this painful pandemic.  I’m excited that we can be looking forward, and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

She has seen plenty of death and suffering during her years as a nurse, but she says COVID-19 is different.  Mulder says patients seem to suffer for a longer time before they eventually pass.  She says the weight of caring for these patients seems to get heavier and heavier over time.

“To see a vaccine and to get a vaccine is overwhelming,” Mulder said.

Other U of U Health workers say they’re also happy to get the vaccine, and they hope everyone will follow their example. Doctor Stephen Hartsell says he’s amazed drug makers were able to get a vaccine within a year of isolating the coronavirus.

“To me, this seems like, and I know it does to the providers in the emergency department, probably one of the best Christmas presents we’ve ever received,” according to Hartsell.

Intermountain Healthcare vaccinates workers sooner than expected

Officials with Intermountain Healthcare originally planned to rollout their vaccines Wednesday afternoon at Utah Valley Hospital.  However, administrators say the demand for the vaccines was so high, they decided to begin their rollout a day early.

(State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn, dressed in brown, poses with workers from Intermountain Healthcare after they get vaccinated. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

One of the first Intermountain employees to get the medication is LDS Hospital ICU nurse Monte Roberts.  He says it’s extremely frustrating to see the struggles COVID-19 patients have to go through.

“You may see that they’re doing really well one day, they’re up walking and talking.  The next day they’re intubated and prone, or on their stomach,” Roberts said.

Roberts says many COVID-19 patients die alone, with no family members around them to say their goodbyes.  He hopes the vaccine can prevent many unnecessary deaths.

“I’m super excited to be a part of this, today.  I’m super excited to get the vaccination and be able to protect myself, protect my family and protect the people I care about,” he said.

When can we get “back to normal?”

Utah State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn is calling today “momentous,” adding that it fills her with excitement.  However, she believes it’s too soon to celebrate.

“I have to say, though, my excitement is tempered by the fact that we’re leading into another holiday season,” said Dunn.

Even though the vaccine is here, Dunn say it will likely be a long time before we can go back to the days of having large get-togethers without wearing masks.  She doesn’t believe that will happen until the fall of 2021, at the earliest.

“To really be sure that COVID is not going to spread around our population, we’re looking at 70 to 80 percent of the population needing to be vaccinated.”

In the meantime, Dunn is urging everyone to continue wearing masks and maintaining social distance.  The daily number of cases has dropped significantly to roughly 2,000 per day.  However, Dunn says that’s still way too high a number.

“At 2,000, our hospitals and ICUs, especially in the referral centers, are still over 90 percent full.  That means they’re over-capacity.”