Health care workers at St. Charles Parish Hospital started to get their own coronavirus vaccinations on Dec. 14, and now they are the ones giving them out as state guidance has expanded administration of the shots to include patients 70 and older, patients who are on dialysis, ambulatory healthcare workers and schools of allied health employees and faculty.
Sharon Beckwith, SCPH clinic operations manager, said the droves of senior citizens coming in to get the vaccines have been emotional about the opportunity.
“They have been so appreciative,” Beckwith said of the vaccine recipients. “When they come in you can sense a sigh of relief. They want to see their grandkids again … some people haven’t met their new grandkids yet, so they’re just so appreciative and excited to be able to get this vaccine.”
Dr. Victoria Smith, associate medical director at SCPH, agreed.
“Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic. There’s just a sense of appreciation … a sense of relief,” Smith said, adding the demand of people calling to schedule appointments or inquire about the vaccination process overloaded the phone system. “That kind of tells you the enthusiasm of our seniors to get these vaccines.”
Beckwith said the senior citizen population has shown little hesitation to sign up for the vaccinations.
“We didn’t see the hesitation with the seniors like with the healthcare workers,” she said. “They are ready and anxious. The enthusiasm is heartwarming. Covid is not going away and you can tell the seniors feel the only way to protect themselves at this point is the vaccine.”
Smith said she is hopeful any hesitation about receiving the vaccine will wane as more information is made available.
“We have people say that we’ve never developed a vaccine this fast, but we’ve also not had a worldwide pandemic since 1918,” she said. “We have to keep that in mind. When you think about COVID 19, its impact was on the entire world. Because it was a world problem and the high death rates and the fact that were having to shut down the economy and all of those things, it means we put concentrated focus, effort, money and time on it.”
The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases may have something to do with the senior citizens’ willingness to get the shots, Smith said.
“With the infection rates going up, there might have been a point where people didn’t know somebody who had COVID and now that’s kind of hard to say,” Smith said. “Over the holidays people let their guards down … it could be driving seniors to say, ‘I want to get protected.’”
Smith said the seniors’ willingness may also stem from the fact that their population has been shown to be taking social distancing and quarantining very seriously.
“When you think about it, it’s been almost a year that many of our seniors have not left their houses other than to maybe go to a doctor’s appointment,” she said. “They’ve been very strict about it, so getting the vaccine is almost like a feeling of liberation.”
Beckwith said one patient she talked with had tears in his eyes when he spoke of finally getting to meet his new grandchild.
“I’m so grateful for my team,” she said. “I wish we could (vaccinate) 24 hours a day and so does my team … we’re ready … we want to do this. I can’t even describe the feeling that the staff has. They feel like they’re serving a bigger purpose, which they are.”
Smith said the hospital’s health care workers deserve high praise.
“We’re going into a very interesting time where we are facing this surge … where we’re getting back to high levels of patients in the hospital and we are doing that well,” she said. ‘Our hospital teams are stretching again … and we’re still doing regular care.”
Smith said when case counts were previously this high, clinics and elective procedures were shut down, which gave medical workers the opportunity to focus solely on the care of COVID patients. She said there has been mention of shutting down elective procedures and other non-essential care again.
“But we’re not at that point at St. Charles,” Smith said. “We look at that every day, but we may get to that point.”
On top of all the care being given, Smith said now there is a seven day a week massive vaccine effort.
“We are asking people to really stretch and really do a lot of things at one time,” Smith said. “As bad it was in March and April, it is probably going to get worse. But at the same time our providers, our staff, our patient access reps are also trying to make sure that we can get to the finish line by vaccinating as many as people as quickly as possible.”
Smith said the Ochsner system is dependent upon the state to advise which groups will be eligible next for the vaccine.
Ochsner is reaching out to its patients directly via MyOchsner, text messaging or email with information about how to schedule appointment to get vaccinated. You must have an appointment to get vaccinated at an Ochsner facility.
Non-Ochsner patients who meet the criteria can schedule vaccine appointments on a first come-first served limited basis at a retail pharmacy. In St. Charles Parish, that is the Ochsner Pharmacy and Wellness in Destrehan at 13100 River Road. You can call to make an appointment at 844-888-2772.