The shot Eva Zamora received Wednesday felt just like a flu shot, but it most certainly wasn’t.
Zamora was the first person in Yakima County to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and was happy to be an example.
“I feel great,” Zamora said outside the West Pavilion of Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima, masked and standing at a distance from four fellow staffers who were also vaccinated. “I just feel excited, being the first one and all.”
Zamora got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine along with Dr. Marty Brueggemann, chief medical officer for Virginia Mason Memorial; Dr. Bismark Fernandez, hospitalist; Jennylyn Pace, a critical care nurse; and Sarah Scott, an assistant nurse manager in the emergency room.
In about 10 days, they should have initial immunity to COVID-19. In 21 days they’ll get a booster shot, and it’s expected their immunity will last for nine to 12 months, Brueggemann said. But this is a learning process, too, so they will know more as time passes, such as if annual shots like those for the flu will be necessary.
State officials are distributing the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Washington this week, at 17 sites across 13 counties. Wednesday was the beginning of COVID-19 vaccinations for Virginia Mason Memorial’s about 2,900 total staff.
The 1,950 doses of the vaccine arrived late Tuesday morning while Brueggemann was at a news conference. He was speaking on behalf of medical care providers in pleading with the public to follow guidelines to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
He, Zamora and the others echoed those sentiments early Wednesday afternoon as they talked about how hard they’ve been working since the pandemic took hold in the Yakima Valley nine months ago. It has been a stressful and challenging time. They are feeling the emotional, physical and mental effects acutely and want to see it end just like everyone else.
“I just wanted for people to get it, too, and I just want to go back to normal, though I don’t know what it is,” said Zamora, who lives in Yakima and has worked for environmental services at the hospital for 16 years. “If I’m going to do it, you guys need to do it.”
All doses in the first batch delivered to Virginia Mason Memorial will be given to its front-line health care workers, with those who care for COVID-19 patients among the first to receive the vaccination. They include providers in the ICU, Emergency Department and Environmental Services technicians such as Zamora — those who clean hospital rooms and handle biological materials are priority, along with workers in many other departments, hospital officials said.
“Get it! It will help all of us,” Zamora said before joining her husband, who was waiting nearby to take her home.
Brueggemann explained that having staffers receive it at the end of their shifts, and or before their days off, is part of the vaccination strategy. It’s just a precaution, he said, and officials don’t expect any issues. But they do predict mild side effects may occur, such as body aches, in the days following vaccination.
“Once you get it, there’s no rule you can’t work,” he said.
Administering the vaccine is “logistically cumbersome,” Brueggemann said, so early goals are vaccinating 50 to 60 people a day; that will probably begin Friday. The daily number of vaccines should increase as the effort becomes more familiar. It involves filling out paperwork every day for state and federal health authorities.
Each department manager will identify people who want to get it — it’s not mandatory, he said. Still, “it’s pretty close to 100% that people want this,” he added, noting it’s unknown when Virginia Mason Memorial will receive another batch of vaccinations.
Scott and Pace stressed their strong desire to get vaccinated not only to protect themselves, but also their fellow employees.
“Staff has been out left and right in this second wave,” Pace said, referring to dozens of employees who have been out with COVID-19-related health issues. But people may still be worried about the vaccine.
“I’m honored to take this first step to put people at ease,” Scott said. “It’s safe and it’s for the best.”
Fernandez wanted to get the vaccine to set an example for his co-workers and the community. But getting it was “really important to us because we want to keep our patients safe,” he said.
It will be a few months before the vaccines are widely distributed. Until then, people need to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing and take other measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, health officials say.
Vaccinations give hope, though. And that’s crucially important these days.
“It’s a big step closer to where we want to be,” Fernandez said. “It’s a really exciting time.”