After accepting an initial shipment of 1,900 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, Gundersen Health System in La Crosse administered its first doses Tuesday morning.
“I am so grateful for this day,” Dr. Elizabeth Cogbill said. “I was talking to myself earlier and trying to make sure that I didn’t cry, but I’m crying because I am so grateful, and I’m so humbled to be here having walked through this journey with all of you and with this community.”
Cogbill was the first to receive the vaccine as an internal medicine and geriatrics specialist.
“I was thinking about my long-term care patients and their families. I was thinking about the staff and all that we’ve been through together,” she said. “I was thinking about my brave and strong team. I was thinking about all of my colleagues in the hospitals and the clinics across the system who have been supportive colleagues and friends.”
She said the vaccine is a shot of hope during a catastrophic year, but was hopeful the community would have something to celebrate a year from now.
“This vaccine, is safe and effective and miraculous scientifically, what an incredible thing,” Cogbill said. “We are going to have so much to look forward to in 2021. In the meantime, we need to practice those measures that we know work: wearing a mask, washing your hands, and physically distancing. Those things combined are how we are going to see an end to this pandemic.”
Gundersen planned to vaccinate 50 members of the staff Tuesday. From there, the health system could vaccinate up to 180 people per day. Before leaving, those who were vaccinated signed up for a date and time to receive their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Gundersen Health System CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber called the vaccine a triumph of science, government, community and healthcare.
“I want to declare myself, right here, that I do not have any concerns about the vaccine or safety,” Rathgaber said. “It has been well tested, and it is ready to go. I will, of course, wait my turn to get the vaccine like many others, but I will not hesitate to get it.”
He noted vaccine distribution will take time and asked for patience as well as advocacy for the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. Patients have been calling asking to be placed on a vaccine list, but Gundersen said it will contact individuals when they can sign up via their MyChart accounts, or with a phone call if they do not have access to the online account.
Sarah Rossman, RN, Gundersen Clinic Operations, said the Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective against COVID-19. The hospital system did anticipate getting the Moderna vaccine as well in the upcoming future.
“No shortcuts occured for this vaccination to be available,” Rossman said. “The COVID-19 vaccine, like all other vaccines, has been scientifically reviewed and approved.”
She noted most people who receive the vaccine will experience mild symptoms that could include fever, headache, muscle aches, and nausea.
“This is actually a good thing, and this means our body is building immunity against COVID-19,” she said.
The vaccine is not a live virus, so there is not a risk of transferring COVID-19 from getting the shot.
“Our staff have been trained on the COVID-19 vaccination,” Rossman said. “We are very confident moving forward and delivering this to our patients in the community.”
She said the vaccines are administered just like any other vaccination process. Patients who receive vaccines are monitored for 15 minutes post-vaccination for any complications.
The first five staff members who received the vaccine included Dr. Cogbill, Holly Bechtum, a respiratory therapist, Josh Whitson, DO a hospitalist and internal medicine specialist, Katie Cramer, a nurse in the critical care unit, and Katie Brossman, a nurse at the Onalaska urgent care location.
More information about COVID-19 and the vaccine can be found on Gundersen’s website.