MUNSTER — The first doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine arrived at Community Hospital Tuesday morning and were administered to health care workers by the afternoon, giving "hope for the future and that we can get back to where we were" and marking a potential turning point in a global pandemic that's extracted a major toll of human life and upended most people's daily lives.
"Over the past nine months, Community Healthcare System hospitals have cared for over 2,000 inpatients with COVID-19," Community Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer Alan Kumar said. "The arrival of this vaccine represents another tool at our disposal to start to turn the tide against this disease that has impacted so many lives. I want to recognize our health care workers who from the beginning have given their all to make a difference. It is a privilege to stand with these heroes as they roll up their sleeves and lead us to a healthier tomorrow."
Community Hospital in Munster administered the vaccine to about 80 health care professionals at its vaccination clinic, which is currently open by appointment only to health care workers from across Community Healthcare Systems and across Lake, Porter, Japser and Newton counties. No complications were reported during the first rounds of shots.
Methodist Hospitals Northlake in Gary, Methodist Hospitals Southlake in Merrillville, and Franciscan Crown Point, Hammond and Michigan City also are expected to get doses within the next few days.
The first health care worker in Northwest Indiana to get the vaccine was Glenna Crouch, an RN and ICU nurse with 30 years of experience. Crouch cared for the hospital's first COVID-19 patient back in March, nine months ago.
"I came in to start my day in the ICU and received my assignment, and was told we had a suspected COVID patient in isolation," she said. "We had been talking about it. We knew it was coming. But it was here. That moment, that day, has changed my life forever. I don't think I will ever take things for granted after working in this ICU with so many patients. We've seen tragedy. We've lost patients. We've had successful patients — we've seen patients go we didn't think were going to get out of the ICU, let alone the hospital. It's touched all of our lives one way or another."
Crouch said the coronavirus shot was like any other vaccination, only that it "actually gave me a sense of hope" and that she felt like it was "the first day I felt hope" when she walked out of the clinic.
“The word that comes to mind with the vaccine is hope,” Crouch said. “It gives us hope for the future and that we can get back to where we were before the pandemic. As the months have gone on and the more the nurses on the ICU have had to endure day in and day out, I told myself that I would be the first in line to get the vaccine. I had a chance to give back even more of myself to the community and to my family to protect them, so I didn’t hesitate when I got the call that we were ready. COVID will never go away … but it’s good to know I am on the road to slowing, hopefully stopping, COVID.”
Community Healthcare System plans to open a second vaccination site at its Crown Point Community Stroke and Rehab Center as the volume and quantity of vaccine doses increase over the next two to four weeks. The second clinic should open in early January, tentatively Jan. 11, likely after Community has gotten Moderna's vaccine, which is expected to get Food and Drug Administration approval this week.
The health care system has been running the highest number of vaccine sign-ups in the state, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
"We have been aggressively recruiting health care workers from across the Region," Kumar said. "We think it will make a significant difference in the positivity rates in our area."
Community Hospital got 975 vials of the vaccine Tuesday and expects to get another 975 doses on Thursday. The clinic in Munster will inoculate any health care professional who registers through the state health department's online portal.
"It's open to any health care worker in the four-county region," Kumar said. "Whether you're in a health care setting in the hospital, in a clinic, in a pharmacy, in a dentist's office, anywhere that is patient-facing, you can come in and get the vaccine. It's not just for clinicians, but anyone that's patient-facing, which can include dietitians, food services, environmental services, engineering. Anyone that's in a health care setting that's seeing patients in any way shape or form should have access to the vaccine."
Community Healthcare expects to open more vaccination sites across Northwest Indiana as more cold storage becomes available.
"More sites means more access," Kumar said. "More access is better for patients long-term."
A clinical trial with thousands of participants found Pfizer's vaccine to be safe and effective. It requires two doses 21 days apart, with immunity within seven days of the second dose. Side effects that have been noted include pain, fatigue, headache, and swelling at the injection site, all of which are commonplace with vaccines administered by needle.
After health care workers get vaccinated, the vaccine will be made available to high-risk demographics, including seniors, long-term care facility residents, cancer survivors and those who are immunocompromised because of underlying conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease.
Then it will be made available to essential workers and those at risk because of living in confined quarters with others, such as in shelters, group homes and correctional facilities.
It has not yet been determined when it will be made available to the general public. At that point, it will be available at pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, Meijer, Walmart and Jewel-Osco.
"The hope is to get to the point where you can go to your physician or to a minute-clinic," Kumar said. "However, it's going to be hard to get that far because the vaccine requires ultra cold and special handling."
For more information, visit comhs.org/coronavirus.