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Vicksburg health officials begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Gloria Butler took off her jacket, pushed up the sleeve of her sweater and sat down. Seconds later, she became the first member of Merit Health River Region’s team to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And, as she walked away from the table, there were tears in her eyes. Emotions, she said, that were connected to the lives that have been lost and devastatingly affected by the global pandemic.

“This is very personal in many ways. I did this, first of all, for all the people that I know that have transitioned because of this virus,” Butler, a Vicksburg family physician said. “The driving force for me is that I know what this virus is doing to people. It is having no mercy.”

Butler, who was one of 10 members of the hospital’s personnel to receive the vaccination Thursday, said she also took the vaccine for those closest to her.

“I have a 96-year-old mother who is with me. I had to do it for her and for my patients,” Butler said. “I want them to know that we have hope. What we are going through with the coronavirus, how it is attacking and killing so many people in this world, not just this country, as healthcare workers we needed some hope and this gives us some hope.”

Merit Health River Region nurse Tammy Anderson administered the vaccination shots and called it “like landing on the moon.”

“It’s really fabulous. It’s bizarre that just this small amount of medication can change the outcome of the virus in the world,” Anderson said. “I was going to retire Friday, but when this vaccine became available, I wanted to stay here and help take care of the employees. I’ve taken care of them for seven years, they’re kind of my family and I wanted to see this process all the way through for them.”

Those receiving the vaccination Thursday will receive their second dose of the vaccine in three weeks. They received the Pfizer vaccination, which is the first of three under development that was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Merit Health River Region’s Chief Nursing Officer Mohammad Aslam, said following the shots that those vaccinated were observed for 15 minutes and then were registered with the Centers of Disease Control, which is tracking those vaccinated.

Aslam said each participant would be checked daily and then would be reminded of when it was time for them to receive their second dose. He said those vaccinated were among those most at risk within the hospital.

“We also sent out a survey to the hospital staff asking how many would want the vaccine,” Aslam said. “From there, and when more vaccine is available, we can start prioritizing who gets the vaccine.”

While Thursday saw the first personnel at Merit Health River Region receive their vaccines, they were not the first Vicksburg medical officials to get it.

Wednesday, Vicksburg pediatrician Dr. Geri Weiland and Vicksburg physician Dr. Dan Edney were among those to receive the vaccine during a promotional event in Ridgeland coordinated by the Mississippi State Medical Association.

Weiland is president-elect of the MSMA, while Edney is a past president and is a member of the governor’s COVID-19 task force.

The promotional event was designed to encourage residents to get the vaccine once it becomes available to the general public, some time after the first of the year.

“(The vaccine) is our best way out of this hole,” Edney said. “If we want to put this fire out we have got to do everything we can, including wearing masks, social distancing, following the guidelines, and getting vaccinated. Then we can get back to normal life.”

Weiland, who has worked in pediatrics for more than 40 years, is confident the vaccine will make a difference in a number of ways.

“This (vaccine) is going to be pretty amazing about how much of a difference it is going to make. I think it will change people’s perceptions of vaccines,” Weiland said. “There are diseases we have eliminated in my practice lifetime — 40 years — several things we have eliminated that people have not even realized because we have been so successful with vaccines. This one, I think, will readjust people’s thinking because they are going to see the type of difference it is going to make in the population.”

Currently, both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which is expected to be approved and distributed in the coming days and weeks, are for those ages 16 and older. Weiland said that while she cannot give it to her patients, she will encourage the parents of her patients to get the vaccine.

“In pediatrics, vaccines are our lives. We live by them and feel they are extremely important,” Weiland said. “I think it is fantastic that we were able to get this out as quickly as we have and still safely. It just proves that there is a lot of red tape and glad they were able to cut through with this one and got this vaccine available.”

As for any concerns the public may have about the vaccine, Edney said there will be far more data and less to worry about by the time the public receives the vaccine.

“By the time the vaccine is available to the general public, there will have been hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers across the country vaccinated and it will not be experimental when it goes to the public,” Edney said. “It is important to understand, we would not be willing to recommend a vaccine that we would not be willing to take ourselves.”

But while the vaccine is starting to be distributed, Anderson said this is not the time to stop taking other preventative measures.

“It’s the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel,” Anderson said. “Until everyone gets the vaccine, and we get herd immunity, we are still going to need to social distance, wear our masks, and do the things that we are supposed to do.”

For Butler, who is set to retire in December after 35 years in medicine, it is just another step she is taking to slow and ultimately stop this virus from claiming another life.

“The (positive COVID-19 case) numbers are out there, they are increasing. We need all the help we can get,” Butler said. “There are so many people I did it for. I know what this virus can do. Therefore, I had to do it.”

Vicksburg Post staff writer Terri Frazier contributed to this report.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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