WORCESTER – A year ago, Fredrik Oestberg and Wanda Reynolds were the first at UMass Memorial Medical Center and St. Vincent Hospital respectively to be the first healthcare professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in the city, all two say the following year was eventful, but they remained healthy.
On December 17, 2020, frontline caregivers aligned in both hospitals and felt the hope that they could turn a page on the difficult nine months they endured during the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city began administering vaccines less than a month later.
Reynolds, 60, is a respiratory therapist. She said she was first on the “luck of the draw” basis with St. Vincent wanting a respiratory therapist to be first and Reynolds knowing the person on the hospital communications team who got him. setting up to have room.
Thinking back to the day she received her vaccine, Reynolds said she recalled the reasons workers felt the need to be vaccinated.
“We were scared. It was something that was out there,” Reynolds said. “We were afraid to work here in these situations, we didn’t know what was going on, and the fact that there was a little hope, that there was a vaccine there, we could go that far that they could say it was very safe and would protect us from COVID, how could I not do it? “
After being shot, Reynolds remembered crying and being grateful that a light was at the end of the tunnel.
Reynolds also had her first grandson on the way and she wanted to feel safer when she first saw him, with the mother being a nurse and the father a firefighter. Her grandson was born on St. Patrick’s Day.
Oestberg, 39, was a nurse educator on the college campus of UMass Memorial Medical Center and is now a nurse manager in an intensive care unit on the college campus. He said the frontline medical workers he received the first dose with were excited for the day and felt like they were stepping into new possibilities.
“At that point, we were all so excited because we were all hoping that this would finally be the end of the gravity of the past nine months,” Oestberg said.
After receiving the vaccines, Oestberg said people he knew saw he received the vaccine and would ask him questions about whether he had any side effects.
And the booster makes 3 hits
The anniversary of Reynolds’ first shot was also the day she is scheduled for her encore shot. Oestberg received his recall a few weeks ago.
Reynolds and Oestberg have remained healthy over the past year, neither of them caught COVID-19 despite their continued frontline work.
The year that followed proved to be more complicated than these early flashes of hope would suggest, as cases fluctuated with the fall of the second wave of COVID-19, the distribution of vaccines and the increase. which followed the spread of the delta variant.
There is even more uncertainty as cases increase rapidly in the middle of the holiday and the emerging variant of omicron has shown the first signs of rapid spread with more resistance to the original two-dose vaccination schedule.
Reynolds said St. Vincent is starting to see a slight increase in the number of patients. Oestberg said the most frustrating part of the past year has been watching the initial hope start to fade as more cases started to occur in late fall and early of winter.
“It started to improve a bit in the early spring, over the summer obviously and I think we were all hoping things were going to be okay and obviously the last couple of weeks it’s been a disaster again. and we’re back to where we were in December of last year, ”Oestberg said.
Majority of unvaccinated patients
Over the past week, Oestberg said almost half of his unit was made up of COVID-19 patients, with most of the patients unvaccinated.
Vaccines, immunization campaigns and potential vaccine mandates have become hotly debated topics over the year since Estberg and Reynolds had their first injection.
Oestberg said he expected vaccines could divide given how politicized the pandemic had already become.
Reynolds said she never wanted to tell anyone what choices to make, but she would recommend anyone who is hesitant about the vaccine to think about what it is like to follow her through a workday during the pandemic.
“I don’t like telling people what to do, everyone has the right to make their own decisions. That being said, I also challenge them to follow me to work one day and then tell me again what they want. think about the vaccine, ”says Reynolds.
Dr Matilde Castiel, the city’s health and social services commissioner, received his Pfizer vaccine earlier than Estberg or Reynolds in September as part of the Pfizer trial. She said her experience with the Pfizer trial enabled her to know what the vaccination schedule would look like when it rolled out.
“It’s been an incredibly long process. We have vaccinated the whole town all the time,” Castiel said. “I think of the number of town halls that we have given across the city in collaboration with UMass, to all the different agencies, to community partners, to educate them about the vaccine. I just remember doing it almost once a day. . ”
The city started vaccinating at the Worcester Senior Center and then held equitable vaccination clinics for vulnerable populations, Castiel said.
At first, the city would receive a weekly allowance of 300 vaccines and staff would have to make appointments to ensure the limited supply went to those in need. The year that followed was one of the most important in the life of Castiel and his team.
“It’s been a year like no other in any of our lives, I think when we stop to talk about it I think you’ll see tears start to flow because it’s been a really stressful year, and for all staff, I think it’s been a really stressful year, ”Castiel said. “And at the same time, I don’t think we stop to think about it, we just do it. And it’s the amazing part of our team, all of us to make it happen.”
During the initial rollout, Castiel said she saw strong demand and believes this trend will continue, with vaccine supply being the major issue. She didn’t expect immunization numbers in the city to end up stagnating where they are.
The city must do better
About 57% of Worcester is fully vaccinated, a number which Castiel and Dr Michael P. Hirsh, the city’s medical director, acknowledged to be too low and below the state’s rate of just over 73%.
Castiel had said in all town halls that around 80 to 85% of the fully vaccinated community was where they wanted to be.
The hardening of people’s resolve not to get the shot was something Castiel said she didn’t expect.
“What I certainly didn’t expect was that I thought that by going out into the community and being able to speak the language and being able to relate to the community, we would definitely be able to get higher numbers, ”she said. “It has been the most amazing thing to be able to get people to understand the vaccine and that it is a safe vaccine.
“For all the reasons people don’t want vaccines, no matter what you say, they are determined not to want a vaccine.”
The city continues to organize town halls and community awareness actions among populations with lower vaccination rates, because vaccine doses have decreased. With the increase in cases and concerns about omicron, Castiel said clinics in the city have started giving more first doses than in previous weeks.
Over the past week, one clinic had dispensed 45 new doses per day, up from recent months when 10 to 15 new doses per day were expected at clinics if the team was lucky.
The higher demand for boosters led the city to seek a more permanent location for clinics in January, Castiel said.
The city also hosts two library clinics and will host a clinic on Mondays at the YMCA in central Massachusetts.