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SoutheastHEALTH gives first five COVID-19 vaccines in region

On Dec. 16, five healthcare workers at Southeast Hospital became the first in the region to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.

SoutheastHEALTH has been named one of Missouri’s pre-positioning sites for the vaccine and started receiving weekly shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15. The first shipment included 2,925 doses of the vaccine.

The first five vaccinated were Mary Carter, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit; Dr. Rajesh Swaminathan, an intensivist in critical care; Audrey Raechel-Batz, a registered nurse in medical telemetry; Dr. Brian Keenan, a physician in emergency services; and Molly Brown, a registered nurse in the float team.

SoutheastHEALTH President and CEO Ken Bateman said he viewed the vaccine as “a light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel” in the fight against COVID-19 and that they are expecting to receive additional vaccines weekly.

“As vaccine availability expands in the coming weeks, we will strategically target vaccination efforts with a phased approach, as set forth by the Missouri Department of Health,” Bateman said. “We are currently entering phase one, which will include healthcare workers, essential workers and high-risk populations.” Phase two and three of the state’s vaccination plan will expand to include every Missouri resident.

According to Bateman, every SoutheastHEALTH employee should have received the vaccine by Dec. 22 and talks have already begun to vaccinate employees at other area hospitals. He added that SoutheastHEALTH, in partnership with other healthcare facilities in the area, will eventually be able to give up to 1,000 doses of the vaccine each day.

Bateman said SoutheastHEALTH would have extra doses in the first shipment to help vaccinate healthcare workers from other health facilities, and they will use subsequent vaccine shipments to vaccinate those in the region who are eligible for vaccines in phase one.

“We feel pretty comfortable that with weekly allocations we should be able to keep up with the demand, Bateman said. “In short order, we can get healthcare workers, essential workers and that high-risk population vaccinated pretty efficiently.”

SoutheastHEALTH has already scheduled vaccinations at Perry Memorial Hospital and has reached out to Missouri Delta in Sikeston and the Poplar Bluff Medical Center.

Brown, who is in the float team but has typically been pulled to the COVID-19 units, said she felt fortunate to receive the vaccine – adding that it was “the least painful vaccine I have ever gotten.”

She said she takes the flu shot every year and said she has felt “a little bit of fear” being exposed to COVID-19 patients every day at work. “I have kids; I have a husband,” Brown said. “I don’t want to carry anything home, so I’m super careful, but this vaccine is going to give me an added level of security that I maybe don’t have to worry so much.”

Keenan said that the vaccine is the “biggest tool” that the hospital has gotten so far to fight COVID-19. “If this vaccine goes into wide use, I think it has the potential that this may be the beginning of the end of coronavirus for us,” he said. “That’s huge and I feel really fortunate that we have this, that we’ve gotten to this point.”

Keenan added that he wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine if he weren’t confident that the vaccine was safe and effective. “It’s been thoroughly tested,” he said. “Over 20,000 people have received doses of this vaccine with very, very few adverse effects.”

Bateman said he strongly encourages the public to take the vaccine when they are eligible to receive it. “Early on, you may have heard that it was rushed through, but I think Pfizer and Moderna have done extensive development of this vaccine and we do feel that it’s safe,” he said.

Bateman added that those who first receive the vaccine will still need to follow safety precautions including hand washing, masking and social distancing until around 70 percent of the population have been vaccinated.

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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