ROCKPORT and BELFAST — Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital, the two MaineHealth hospitals serving communities in Knox and Waldo counties, administered the first vaccinations for COVID-19 to its front-line caregivers Tuesday, Dec. 22.
Hours after the arrival of the Moderna vaccine at its hospitals, PBMC and WCGH began inoculating team members who provide direct care to patients infected with the coronavirus.
Among the first to be vaccinated were Diane Hynes, RN, a charge nurse in the PBMC Emergency Department, and Beth Eldridge, RN, a nurse in the Surgical Services Department at WCGH.
“I am so grateful to the scientists who worked countless hours to develop these vaccines,” Hynes said, in a news release. “I am filled with hope for our future.”
“Getting the COVID vaccine today is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had,” Eldridge said shortly after being vaccinated. “It’s the beginning of the end of the all the illness and sadness and confinement. I’ve seen the impact this pandemic has had on our community. I trust the science and I trust that this vaccine is the solution.”
Norma Michaud, CST, also of WCGH’s Surgical Services Department, said she hoped her enthusiasm for being vaccinated inspired others to do the same.
“I know there are still difficult months ahead. But today we have taken the first steps out from this pandemic.”
The enthusiasm for the moment was not limited to just those receiving the vaccine. Hanna Zetterstrand, PA, of WCGH Orthopedics, sought out the opportunity to be on the other end of the needle, administering the first COVID-19 shots at WCGH.
“This is a historic moment, a turning point in the pandemic, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Zetterstrand said. “I am helping to protect people from getting COVID-19. How cool is that?”
Hynes, Eldridge and Michaud are among the first front-line caregivers at PBMC and WCGH who will be vaccinated. Combined, the two hospitals employ nearly 2,500 people. The Moderna vaccine being used was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week.
“Following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we are vaccinating our teams so that we can continue to care for those who become ill,” said Cheryl Liechty, MD, MPH, an internal medicine physician and infectious disease specialist who has guided the COVID-19 response at both PBMC and WCGH. “At the same time, we are also working on plans for vaccine distribution among our patients. State and Federal guidance for which patients should be prioritized for vaccine is evolving. We stand ready to offer vaccine to our patients who meet the criteria when the guidance is finalized and we have vaccine for that purpose.”
Earlier in the fall, MaineHealth formed a system-wide task force with representatives from all nine of its local health systems to oversee distribution of the vaccine among its front-line caregivers. The task force has been working to set up vaccine clinics across the system in an effort to vaccinate care team members as quickly as possible.
“By having our care team protected against COVID-19, we can better assure that we will be ready to treat, not just those suffering with COVID, but everyone who needs care during this time,” said Dora Mills, MD, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer.
It will take several weeks to vaccinate all eligible team members. While the logistics of storing and transporting the vaccines require planning given that the Pfizer product requires ultra-cold storage and the Moderna vaccine also has to be frozen, the biggest hurdle to overcome is finding doctors and nurses to staff the vaccine clinics. MaineHealth has been actively recruiting staff for the clinics for several weeks.
“It’s a credit to our teams across the system that they were able to come together so quickly and get shots in arms within hours of the arrival of the vaccine,” said Mills. “This effort speaks to how critically important this vaccine is to maintaining our readiness to help our communities through this pandemic.”
Vaccinations will not diminish the need to take precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Within MaineHealth, all safety measures will remain in place, including the use of personal protective equipment, extra cleaning of surfaces, segregation of patients known or suspected of having COVID-19 and daily screening for symptoms of all employees.
“Amid the hopeful sign that a vaccine has started to become available, we still have much work to do, together, to combat this pandemic,” said Dr. Liechty. “With vaccines not expected to become widely available to the public for several months, it is vital that we continue to use the COVID-19 prevention tools we know work, especially consistent masking and social distancing. Please celebrate the holidays as safely as possible.”
About Pen Bay Medical Center
Pen Bay Medical Center is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit pbmc.org.
Waldo County General Hospital
Waldo County General Hospital is part of MaineHealth, a not-for-profit integrated health system consisting of eight local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,600 employed and independent physicians working together through an Accountable Care Organization. With more than 19,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England and provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. For more information, please visit wcgh.org.