The first COVID-19 vaccinations arrived in Nome
The precious Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Nome and the vaccination of Norton Sound Health Center frontline employees and the residents of the Quyanna Care Center began that evening.
On Friday vaccinators were far enough ahead that they started giving the first shot to elders over the age of 80. The vaccine is given in two shots, 21 days apart. On Monday, the vaccine was available for elders aged 65 and over.
On Saturday Nome’s first responders gathered at the firehall for their shots. A total of 29 signed up from the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department and the Fire Department, according to NVFD Chief Jim West Jr. “We also have a couple of the guys from Nome Police Department coming in. Our crew that meets the airplanes is also here tonight. They act as first responders out meeting the airplane.”
Included in the crew that shepherds incoming travelers at the airport to the COVID-19 testing tents was City Manager Glenn Steckman. “I’m getting vaccinated because I’m one of the city personnel who greets the airplane on a regular basis,” he said. “Today we got 70 people getting off the plane, coming to Nome. We’re working with them to make sure they follow the quarantine regulations when they get there. They’re getting swabbed and tested but we’re exposed to this. We have four city employees doing this on a regular basis. It seems every other day somebody comes off the plane and tests positive.” The city manager was asked about the city’s employees at City Hall, are they planning on getting vaccinated. “We haven’t gotten down to that level where there’s a discussion in City Hall,” he replied. “The City has been encouraging everybody to take the flu vaccine and when the opportunity presents itself to take the vaccine against the virus. As we do this as a community, all the restrictions will start going away.”
The vaccinations at the fire hall went smoothly as the organized process kept things moving. NSHC’s Kylea Goff reported 975 vaccines were at that time available in Nome, all of Pfizer manufacture. “The state hasn’t allocated us any more yet,” she said. “The rest of it we should know within the next week when we’ll be getting more.” Asked about the scheduling of vaccines for other groups she said the schedule for elders was being worked out. “Yesterday at the hospital we vaccinated 82. We have been working diligently to get all of our frontline staff and our first responders and our employees that have direct patient care vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Vaccination of those age 80 and over began on Friday. On Monday they announced those 65 and older could make appointments with the pharmacy for vaccines. They advised that patients should be ready to wait 15 to 30 minutes after the vaccine to ensure there are no adverse reactions. Information on when other groups will be vaccinated will be available as the vaccination progresses. They will be phoning patients 16 and over who have certain medical complications.
“Things are going really smoothly,” said Public Health nurse Deanna Stang. She was working hard administering the shots. “Today is day two of vaccine rollout for the Norton Sound Region. We’ve vaccinated only in Nome, however, Norton Sound Health Corporation will be vaccinating in the villages potentially next week. We’re expecting additional vaccine to come in.”
How does she respond to those who are reluctant to get the vaccine? “The first thing we need to do with anyone who has some concerns about the vaccine is get down to the bottom of what their concerns are,” she said. “So, we need to listen first to figure out what they’re concerned about and as far as the safety and efficacy of this vaccine it’s been proven to be very safe and efficacious. It’s incredible that we have a vaccine rolled out within less than a year that’s 95 percent effective. Vaccines are our top ten rated public health achievements worldwide. They are so powerful and effective and are going to help us turn the tide in this pandemic. We strongly encourage anyone with questions to call Public Health Nursing here in Nome. If they have any questions about the technology behind mRNA vaccines or the future vaccines that might be coming out. This truly brings joy and hope to everyone within Public Health and the health care field. It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” she said.
“When I get the second shot it will be an even bigger relief,” said Chief of Police Mike Heinzelman, rolling down his sleeve after his injection. How many members of the Nome Police Department have come forward for the vaccine? “It has been their choice, they’re not being forced to do it. Some are, some aren’t. I happen to be in the 60-year-age bracket so it was important for me to get it, as well as for the other people I encounter.”
But why do most of the officers object to the vaccine? “I think they’re just being cautious. They’re unsure of what the side effects may be. I think as others take it, they’ll be at ease a little bit more.” There are 21 employees in the department.
Nome Mayor John Handeland set an example by removing most of his shirt for his shot. “It is nice to get the vaccine and I’d encourage everybody to do so,” he said. Asked about how eager others are to get the shot, he told of his survey at Nome Joint Utility System. “I just did a listing at the utility for the next round of folks and we actually had just one over half interested in getting it and just under half doesn’t want it. I guess I was kind of surprised by those numbers but there is some concern about side effects and it’s mostly in the younger folks that have heard things about being infertile and the like. I hope that as information gets circulated people can read a little about it and come around to actually getting it because if we don’t have more people vaccinated it’s not going to help the rest of us,” he said.