Flint, MI—Five healthcare workers at McLaren Flint Hospital were among the first in the Flint-area to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.  

“This is exciting. It’s been nine grueling months for our staff, our patients, for the community. And I’d like to say that we’re at a point now where we can take the fight to COVID. And it’s a nice opportunity for us to get over the pandemic and get back to normal,” Chief Medical Officer Binesh Patel said. 

The hospital received its first Pfizer shipment at 9:15 a.m. the morning of Dec. 17. Hospital officials then selected five staff members for the initial doses. 

“We made the decision this morning to select five people so we could go through the logistics of how to actually do this,” Patel said. 

Hospital officials do not yet have an accurate count of the number of doses but will Thursday evening, Patel said, adding that there are more people to vaccinate than there are doses. 

The majority of McLaren Flint’s 2,000 staff members have already volunteered, Patel said.   

Registered Nurse Patrick Bryant was the first to be vaccinated. 

“I’m excited. It’s an honor,” Bryant said.

After being the first staff member at the McLaren Hospital to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 17th, 2020, Registered Nurse Patrick Bryant reflects on what it means to get the vaccination after caring for COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Since the onset of the pandemic, Bryant said he’s taken only two days off. In March and April, he parked his camper across the street from McLaren Flint and lived there to protect his family while working 65 hours a week. 

Though the five employees were granted time off to recover from the vaccine, as it is known to have flu-like side effects, Bryant said he will be returning straight to work. 

Kathy Coggins, a registered nurse who works in the intensive care unit, was vaccinated second. She said she wanted the vaccine because she’s witnessed so much devastation. 

“I’ve seen more deaths in the last nine months than I’ve seen my entire 32-year-career,” Coggins said. 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Nicole Wesley receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Wesley has been responsible for ventilating COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. Five McLaren staff members were selected to be the first recipients of the vaccine at the hospital on December 17th, 2020. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Three members of McLaren Flint’s education nursing staff administered the shots. All said it was a standard vaccination procedure. 

The main difference is the number of questions they must ask prior to giving it.  

“We have to make sure that they do not have COVID symptoms, we have to check their temperature…ensure they hadn’t been exposed to anyone with COVID [and have had] no allergies to past vaccines,” Nurse Educator Lana Mesack said.

If any employees do have a severe allergic reaction, the hospital is prepared to respond.

“If there was an allergic reaction…we have a kit here ready to go…This is no different than if somebody were to have an issue in our cafeteria,” Patel said. 

But vaccine recipients said they weren’t worried. 

“I’m not nervous, I’ve read the literature. There’s only some mild symptoms, if they do occur. So, I’m pretty confident about taking the vaccination,” Dr. Ravinder Singala said, who also received the Pfizer shot. 

On Dec. 10, a panel of medical experts recommended the Federal Drug Administration officially authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Within days, the first shipments left from a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich. By Dec. 14, the first frontline workers in Michigan were vaccinated. 

Registered nurse Amy Maya holds a vial of the diluted Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in her hands. Five McLaren Hospital staff members were selected to be he first recipients of the vaccine on December 17th, 2020. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

It will be months before the vaccine is available to the general public. And though many Flint residents said they don’t trust it, for these doctors and nurses, it’s a sign of hope. 

COVID-19 vaccine recipient and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Nicole Wesley intubates, or inserts breathing tubes, in patients with COVID-19. 

“I’ve been a CRNA for 20 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this…This is, in my opinion, the beginning of a long tunnel with light finally looking at us, facing us, coming towards us,” Wesley said. 

Respiratory Therapist Kellie Johnson also received the vaccine Thursday. She and her husband had COVID-19 in March. 

“It’ a bad situation,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes, “To work in a situation and then take it home…the vaccine is a big thing.” 

Respiratory Therapist Kellie Johnson receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 17th, 2020. Johnson was among 5 McLaren Hospital staff selected to receive the first doses of the vaccine at the hospital. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

For those deciding whether they will take the vaccine, Singala said it’s important to consult medical experts.  

“Instead of listening to family or friends, read the science, read the literature that comes from the manufacturers [and] the CDC. If you follow the science, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about if the vaccination is appropriate for you or not,” Singala said. 

It is still necessary to take precautions, despite the vaccine, Patel said. 

“Even though we have received the vaccine and we are going to be vaccinating the healthcare workers and, eventually, the general public, we can’t stop doing the safe practices— wearing a mask, hand hygiene and social distancing—until we’ve reached a point where the number of cases have dropped significantly and we feel comfortable that we’ve gotten past this pandemic.” 

McLaren Flint plans to “go live” with the vaccine tomorrow. Employees will receive their second dose in early January. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...

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