'This Is An Exciting Thing.' For Frontline Workers, Vaccine Comes As A Massive Relief Despite some early bumps, the arrival of the first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine was celebrated this past week by those who've been caring for patients since the early days of the pandemic.
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'This Is An Exciting Thing.' For Frontline Workers, Vaccine Comes As A Massive Relief

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'This Is An Exciting Thing.' For Frontline Workers, Vaccine Comes As A Massive Relief

'This Is An Exciting Thing.' For Frontline Workers, Vaccine Comes As A Massive Relief

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tens of thousands of health care workers got the first dose of coronavirus vaccine this past week, and it comes as a huge relief for many who've been on the front lines for months now. But there were also some early hiccups with the rollout. Will Stone brings us this report from Seattle.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: So much had to happen to get this shot into the left arm of nurse Rebecca Engberg.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One, two, three.

REBECCA ENGBERG: (Laughter) Awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. You are all set here.

ENGBERG: Do you take this?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yep. I'll take...

ENGBERG: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...That one.

STONE: But for all it took, the vaccine clinic at Seattle Children's Hospital feels pretty normal. After her shot, Engberg waits to make sure there are no unexpected side effects.

ENGBERG: I physically feel fine. I'm emotionally pretty excited about it.

STONE: Engberg has cared for COVID patients in the ICU.

ENGBERG: It's been a long year already. It's scary working with these patients, and it's something different, so anything that gives you a little bit more protection makes you feel a little bit better.

STONE: She didn't have any real hesitation about getting the vaccine. Evan Mew, a respiratory therapist at Seattle Children's, also just got his shot.

EVAN MEW: I was a little concerned about how fast this went through. I have not really been one to trust this government this past year.

STONE: But ultimately, Mew decided the benefits outweighed the risks. Even with the second vaccine, from Moderna, starting to roll out today, it will be a while before the general public can get vaccinated. Dr. Danielle Zerr with Seattle Children's says this very first phase with the Pfizer vaccine was hard to orchestrate.

DANIELLE ZERR: Probably the biggest challenge is planning when you don't have information and details.

STONE: Zerr says they could be vaccinating two to three times as many people.

ZERR: We have the freezer space, we have the staff, we have the clinic space, and we have the will to do it.

STONE: But the vaccine is not coming as fast as some states would like. Washington and others are getting about 40% fewer doses than they initially expected. At first, it was unclear why.

(OUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUSTAVE PERNA: There is no problem with the process. There is no problem with the Pfizer vaccine.

STONE: That's U.S. Army General Gustave Perna speaking to reporters yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING

PERNA: It was a planning error, and I am responsible.

STONE: Perna says the U.S. is still on track to send out 20 million doses by the end of the month. Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle King County says the federal government hasn't invested enough in the vaccine rollout, and delays and hiccups should be expected.

JEFFREY DUCHIN: So I'm not surprised. I'm disappointed it happened so quickly - that we're already seeing challenges with respect to allocation.

STONE: There's also pushback at some hospitals over who gets it first. Medical residents at Stanford protested after employees who aren't at the bedside got the shot before them. Ashley Bower says there was a glitch at her hospital in Washington State where nurses like her were initially passed over as administrative staff got shots.

ASHLEY BOWER: They don't even come to the COVID floors, and they're taking the vaccine before, like, the actual frontline staff that's doing the work.

STONE: And while the vaccine is a big comfort, Seattle nurse Karine Ingraham says it doesn't change the nature of her work on COVID.

KARINE INGRAHAM: Listening to people say goodbye to their loved ones via FaceTime - I've been doing that for a year, and I still cry every time. But also, like, getting to see people who get out of the ICU - it's just a crazy world of extremes.

STONE: And that won't change nearly soon enough, even as the country enters this new, promising chapter of the pandemic. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAP KENDRICKS' "YORUBA")

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