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COVID-19 Vaccine ‘A Light at the End of the Tunnel’

Friday, December 18, 2020

RN Martha Kanthak administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Dr. Jeffrey Jacobson, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UI Health, on Friday, Dec. 18. "I feel a little bit guilty about being one of the first in line, but I realize that being one of the first in line will give me a little bit louder voice to encourage other people to get the vaccines themselves," said Jacobson. "I think it's so critically important in our hopes to end the pandemic." (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago).

For Dr. Susan Bleasdale, being among the first UI Health staff members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was "like a Christmas present."

“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Bleasdale, interim chief quality officer and medical director of Infection Prevention & Control at UI Health. “I think this is the beginning of what will hopefully be a turn of the tide in the fight against COVID.” 

UI Health initially has received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA on Dec. 11, and began offering them Dec. 18, based on prioritization guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDD) and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The initial distribution could provide vaccines to almost one-third of UI Health clinical staff, Bleasdale said.

University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics staff also have received information on vaccine safety, including during a town hall Dec. 17, when they could have their questions answered.

“Our goal is to make it available quickly so as many staff as possible who choose to receive the vaccine can get it,” Bleasdale said. “Based on the data from the trials made available by the FDA, we feel the vaccine appears to be safe and highly efficacious, so we are highly encouraging our staff to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Jeffrey Jacobson, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UI Health, said he wanted to be among the first to get the vaccine so he could show others that it’s safe.

“I feel a little bit guilty about being one of the first in line, but I realize that being one of the first in line will give me a little bit louder voice to encourage other people to get the vaccines themselves,” said Jacobson. “I think it’s so critically important in our hopes to end the pandemic.”

Vaccine distribution for frontline workers is an important first step toward curbing the pandemic, Jacobson said.

“The pandemic, over the last nine months, has put tremendous stress and strain on all of our frontline workers — it really has visibly taken a toll on folks from a mental, emotional, and physical standpoint,” he said. “People are exhausted in all regards and had a very dim view on where things were headed for much of this pandemic, and we’re finally seeing reasons to be hopeful. We can’t let our guards down yet, but we can see a reason to be hopeful.”

Until the vaccine is widely available to the general population, Bleasdale said, the precautions people have been taking —such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, staying home when sick — will need to remain in place. It’s important to provide information on vaccine safety, too, she said.

“I see patients weekly in clinic and have already started talking to my patients about this to educate them on the safety and efficacy,” she said. ”I let them know to be ready for when I call them and let them know we are ready to start offering to them.”

Tracy Abraham, a certified nurse-midwife who has been at UI Health for 21 years, received her COVID vaccine early Friday morning.

“I'm getting the vaccine because it's important to curb the pandemic and protect yourself and your family,” she said. “It's also important for me to protect the moms and babies I work with. I'm hopeful that 2021 is going to be a better year.”

Karla Carreon, a UIC Nursing student, volunteered to administer the vaccine Friday morning and was scheduled to receive hers the following day.

“As a nursing student, it's important to show others that it's safe,” she said. “I was a little nervous about getting and giving the vaccine at first, but I've done my research, and I'm ready.”

Dr. Monique Sutherland, a fellow in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, said her experience will help her educate her patients on the vaccine.

“It’s an exciting day,” she said. “I feel blessed to be one of the first to get the vaccine, and I’m happy to share the experience.”

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Story by Christy Levy, UIC Today. Lori Botterman contributed to this story.