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Saint Francis begins vaccinating its frontline healthcare workers

Saint Francis Medical Center was able to begin vaccinating its front-facing healthcare workers on Friday, Dec. 18, and will now be a redistribution center for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maryann Reese, President and CEO of the Saint Francis Healthcare System, said they were able to receive the first round of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines from Broadway Pharmacy without having to wait to receive vaccinations from Southeast-HEALTH.

“We will be giving our own vaccines from now on, so it’s a very, very exciting day for Saint Francis and an especially great day for our colleagues,” Reese said.

She added that while some people have asked her why Saint Francis had to go out of the initial distribution system to receive the vaccine, what is really important is that the healthcare workers who have risked their lives to help COVID-19 patients and have “been on the frontlines since March” will now receive the vaccine.

Saint Francis nurse Alicia Caldwell, who has done 128 shifts in the hospital’s COVID care unit, was the first to receive the vaccine on Friday. Caldwell said the first dose of the vaccine didn’t hurt and that she felt humbled to receive it. She will receive the second dose of the vaccine 17 to 20 days after the first.

Caldwell said she wasn’t reluctant to receive the vaccine, especially after speaking with physicians and pharmacists before hand.  “All the hesitation I had was just to make sure I was doing my homework on the vaccine itself,” she said. “It’s been proven that it works, so I was all for it.”

During her 1,500 hours on the COVID care unit at Saint Francis, Caldwell said she’s seen just how detrimental the COVID-19 virus has been in the region.

“We are seeing that people with any kind of comorbidities are declining quickly, and it can be dangerous if you don’t get to the hospital in time,” Caldwell said. “We are encouraging you, if you have those symptoms, to please come in so we can help save you.”

Caldwell said receiving the vaccine will help her and her patients be more safe. “I try very hard to stay at home when I’m not at work, but when I do have to go out, I now know that I’m more protected,” she said. “Now when I do come to work, that will make my patients more protected.”

The distribution of the vaccine at Saint Francis will be phased, with 20 percent of health care workers in each front-facing department receiving the vaccine at a time.

“We’ve been ready to give the vaccine for probably a month, and our plan is to give the vaccine to not everybody at the same time,” Reese explained. “We have 20% of our colleagues getting it at a time, because the immune response can be strong – which is good, but it can also cause high fever, nauseas, lethargy and they might not be able to come to work. We want to make sure we stagger it, so we can continue to care for our community.”

According to Reese, the first vaccines will be given to healthcare workers that deal with COVID-19 patients, but they will be able to give vaccinations to their other workers at the medical system and in the system’s 40 outpatient clinics when Missouri moves on to a later phase of the vaccination plan.

Reese said she had to thank Broadway Pharmacy and the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services for working with the healthcare system. Reese gave a special thanks to DHHS Director Dr. Randall Williams and Alex Tuttle, the chief of the office of government policy and legislation at DHHS.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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