LIMA — For nine months, Dr. Jason Stienecker and Dr. Jeremy Heffner held to the mantra that a vaccine would eventually arrive.
The two doctors, who helped establish a COVID-19 unit at Lima Memorial Health System last spring, were among the first to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday as Lima Memorial joins hospitals across Ohio in vaccinating frontline healthcare workers.
“We didn’t know how much of an emotional roller coaster this would actually be,” said Stienecker, a pulmonologist and medical director of intensive care for Lima Memorial Health System. “… It’s been hard seeing a lot of people you know, as they go through this having long-term effects and/or passing away.”
The vaccines are the first step toward normalcy, albeit one that will take months to carry out.
For now, access is limited to healthcare workers, emergency medical service providers as well as staff and residents in long-term care facilities and congregate care homes that have seen some of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks this year.
Lima Memorial received its first shipment, roughly 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, on Tuesday. Vaccinations followed on Wednesday.
Priority is being given to caregivers and those who are routinely exposed to COVID-19 in the emergency department, intensive care unit and COVID-19 unit, said Michael Swick, president and chief executive officer of Lima Memorial Health System, followed by those who are sometimes exposed to the virus and finally those with limited to no exposure.
Swick said the initial shipment, which will be followed by a second shot within the next 28 days, should cover most of the health system’s clinical team who opted in to receive the vaccine.
Dozens of physicians, nurses and other clinical staff who opted in were present Wednesday to demonstrate their belief that the vaccine is a safe and effective way to generate immunity to a virus that has killed more than 325,000 Americans in just nine months.
“We’re here to show you that we believe in it enough that we’re willing to take one ourselves,” said Heffner, a critical care surgeon and medical director of trauma services.
The vaccines are highly effective, Stienecker said, and the long-term side effects from COVID-19 are much more severe than those associated with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Some patients infected with coronavirus in March are still reporting shortness of breath, cognitive impairment and other symptoms tied to the disease nine months later, he said, whereas the vaccine may cause temporary fever and muscle aches.
“That’s the immune system saying: There’s something there,” Stienecker said. “It’s starting to make antibodies.”
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both require a second dose, or booster shot, to generate immunity to the virus.
Stienecker said most of the effects associated with the vaccine will occur within three days of receiving the booster, so it’s not uncommon to feel sick for a day or two as the immune system fends off the virus.
“To me, that’s not a side effect,” he said. “It’s confirmation that your body is now able to fight this virus.”
More than 11,000 Ohio healthcare workers, first responders and staff or residents in long-term care facilities have already received their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Most of those initial vaccines are going to Ohio hospitals and several pharmacies that will be administering vaccines in long-term care facilities. But shipments of the Moderna vaccine have started arriving at local health departments too, including Allen County Public Health and the Putnam County Health Department, which are starting to schedule appointments with other groups that fall under Phase 1a prioritization.