As the coronavirus vaccines roll out, frontline workers and group home residents are the first to receive it.
Dr. Dov Frankel found a miracle in a tent in the middle of a parking lot.
There, on Dec. 28, he received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine outside of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, in a tent being used to administer the injections.
“I was probably the third person in the hospital to be vaccinated,” said Frankel, an attending physician at the emergency department of GBMC. “The first day it was available, it was 7 o’clock in the morning and we were there standing in line.”
Frankel had spent the last 10 months treating COVID-19 patients, fearful over the potential risk to his own life that came from treating the illness. But there, in that tent, Frankel felt “very, very excited to be part of it … to live in a time where a vaccine was developed so quickly, and the potential to get rid of COVID, at least to protect society, it was just a monumental moment, for me at least, to be able to partake in receiving a vaccine.”
The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived, and while many Americans are eager to get it, others are hesitant, and everyone wants reassurance that it is safe and effective.
The JT spoke with several members of the local community who have received the initial dose of the vaccine for an inside look at how the rollout is going.
Getting the shot
Local hospitals such as the University of Maryland Medical Center are filling up more and more with patients who are now suffering from the onslaught of COVID-19, said Dr. Hannah Goldberg, an emergency medicine and internal medicine doctor at the University of Maryland Medical Center, during an interview with the JT in December.
“We’re seeing a lot of tragedy, and it’s heartbreaking,” Goldberg said. Between the suddenness with which people fall ill and the risk that doctors and nurses subject themselves to for the sake of their patients, “there’s definitely more anxiety than usual, but we also have a pretty strong sense of purpose to be taking care of these patients.”
Goldberg, a resident of Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood, received the Pfizer vaccine Dec. 17. It was a relatively straightforward process, she said. After answering a few preliminary questions, such as whether she was allergic to anything (like vaccines), whether she was pregnant or breastfeeding, or if she was currently sick, she received an injection she said was “less painful than a flu shot.”
Adriane Kozlovsky, a clinical dietitian at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital in Baltimore and a resident of Pikesville, also received the Pfizer vaccine. She got the shot on Dec. 30 from Walgreens staff, who had set up a table within Levindale’s Town Center common area, which is currently closed to the general public.
Before getting the vaccine, she said, she receiving a number of emails with information on the vaccine and the forms she would need to fill out. While she was given the date when she should come for the vaccine, there was not a specific appointment time.
The process was relatively quick and easy, Kozlovsky said. “You showed up, and they processed you, and you got your shot and you were on your way.”
It was a “celebration, getting to this point and being able to vaccinate as many people as they did,” Kozlovsky said.
Kozlovsky contracted COVID-19 around March and April of 2020, she said. Knowing that this left her with COVID-19 antibodies, she considered whether she should take the vaccine, or allow someone more susceptible to receive it earlier in her place. After discussing the matter with her doctor, colleagues and family, she ultimately decided to take advantage of the opportunity to receive it, as it was not certain when the next chance to do so would be.
Abe Berg, a resident of Levindale, received an injection of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 30, after a brief wait with only one other person in front of him in line. The injection was administered in Berg’s left arm by staff from Walgreens, he said.
Checking for reactions
After getting her shot, Goldberg was under observation for 15 minutes to make sure there were no adverse reactions. She waited that time in a room filled with EpiPens (just in case), but no one needed them while she was there.
There have been some reports of side effects and reactions to the vaccine, such as soreness at the injection site and some flu-like symptoms, but Goldberg said these reactions are minimal compared to the effects of COVID-19.
Frankel agreed. Besides a few reports of allergic reactions, there have not been major side effects. “I just don’t think there’s much of a risk in taking the vaccine,” he said.
Once the observation period was over, Goldberg simply went about the remainder of her day, she said. Her arm was a bit sore when she woke up the following morning and she felt “a little bit run down and achy,” but she did not have a fever, was capable of working a shift in the emergency room and otherwise felt all right.
Likewise, any reaction Frankel had was “less than a flu shot,” he said. “Maybe the next day I felt it a little at the site of the injection, but it didn’t affect me in any way.”
Berg did not have any reaction from the injection and noted that the process went by very quickly.
Sticking with routine?
Goldberg doesn’t expect her personal behavior or routine will change much until her husband, parents and grandmother also receive vaccinations.
Similarly, Frankel has no intentions of letting his guard down. He plans to continue to wear a mask, social distance, practice hand hygiene and wear personal protective equipment when working with patients.
Berg, however, anticipated that receiving both doses of the vaccine would increase his “mobility.” He is looking forward to once again be able to receive visitors, visit relatives, celebrate Jewish holidays and go outside to enjoy warm weather.
Message to the public
To members of the public who aren’t sure if they trust the vaccine, Goldberg noted that the perspective of much of the lay population, who have heard about the virus but may not necessarily know those who have died from it, is fundamentally different from that of the medical community dealing with it every day. In addition to being an all-around terrible virus, she said, succumbing to it can be a lonely way to die.
“With the restrictions on visitors in hospitals right now, it’s tremendously lonely,” Goldberg said. “In the past I always kind of took some solace in the fact that patients who were dying at least had their loved ones with them. And it’s been unimaginable that these patients who are sick and dying in the hospital don’t have their loved ones with them. I never thought I would see that.”
Despite the challenges, Goldberg is grateful to community members eager to receive the vaccine and thanked them for doing their part after witnessing so much tragedy over the past year.