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Carris Health begins vaccinating frontline workers, two clinics for high-priority employees planned this week

Three Carris Health – Rice Memorial Hospital employees, two nurses and a doctor, were the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday morning. One of them called the start of vaccinations "a celebration." After the public event to begin the vaccinations, Carris Health employees continued receiving vaccinations throughout the day Tuesday.

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Dr. Fred Hund, a hospitalist at Carris Health – Rice Memorial Hospital, receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination administered by Nurse Nicole Aleshire Tuesday morning in the Carris Health Lakeland Auditorium in Willmar. Hund was one of the three frontline healthcare workers to first receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Carris Health. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — In the past 10 months, Nick Baker said, he’s seen the sickest patients he’s ever seen.

He lined up for the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning, he said, because “anything I can do to avoid getting someone else sick is worth it. If I can keep even one person out of the ICU, that’s a win for me.”

Baker, a nursing supervisor and on the staff of the intensive care unit, was the first Carris Health – Rice Memorial Hospital employee to be vaccinated. He was followed by Becky Iverson, a nurse in the hospital’s emergency department, and Dr. Fred Hund, a hospitalist at Rice and the chief of staff.

After the first three vaccinations, Carris Health began a vaccination clinic for employees that would continue in the basement auditorium of the Lakeland Clinic throughout the day and serve as many as 200 people. Employees from a number of Carris Health facilities were scheduled to attend. A similar clinic will be held Thursday.

At this point, the vaccinations are available only to health care workers on priority lists.

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Carris has more than enough vaccine for the 85% of employees who have signed up to receive it, said Angela Mitteness, Carris infection preventionist. The high number interested in the vaccine is “amazing,” she said.

Future vaccination clinics will depend on how quickly the vaccines become available, hospital officials said.

Iverson said she saw it as her duty to get vaccinated. “To me it signals that we’re getting to the end of something that has been unlike anything that we’ve ever seen,” she said. “We’ve never seen a virus act this way.”

For Hund, another reason was to demonstrate to the public that he believes the vaccine is safe.

He didn’t mince words, calling vaccines a “triumph of medicine over the centuries.” While people may doubt science, “they all believe when they are gasping for breath, you know?” he said.

Hund said he had no concerns about the vaccine. “If you have any doubts, just ask someone, ‘when’s the last time you had to worry about polio,’” he said.

Polio is nearly unheard of, and “we’ve pretty much, worldwide, eliminated smallpox by vaccinations,” he said.

All three talked about the concerns they’ve had about taking the coronavirus home to their families and their relief at having a vaccine available.

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The three offered a picture of the situation inside the hospital during the pandemic.

For her and her coworkers, “this is a celebration,” Iverson said. “We’ve gone through things in the last year I didn’t even know existed in medicine.”

Baker agreed. “I never thought we’d have to keep patients (so sick) in the hospital here,” he said, “but the ICU nurses and ER nurses, all the nurses here really stepped up, because they are capable, and we were forced to because there were literally zero beds in Minnesota to send these patients to.”

Hund praised the nurses and other frontline workers — “They’ve been doing this for nine months, walking in to people with a bad disease, because that’s what they do.”

At the age of 28, Baker said, “I’ve taken care of patients my parents’ age and watched them die on the ventilator, despite everything we’ve done for them; I don’t want to see that happen to any more people.”

Hund said he had a really nervous couple days about two and a half weeks ago, when 11 ICU beds were available in the entire state. And the pandemic doesn’t stop car wrecks, heart attacks or other medical emergencies.

Recently, the situation has eased in the state. “Thankfully, people finally got scared and began behaving,” he said. However, he is waiting to see the effect of people traveling for Christmas.

“A few million people got into an airplane over the holiday, which seems kinda stupid,” he said, and he hopes it doesn’t lead to another surge in cases.

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In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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