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Cleveland Health Care Workers Begin Getting COVID-19 Vaccines

Updated: 5:15 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020

Cleveland-area hospital employees began receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Wednesday.

Dr. Sherrie Williams, a pulmonary critical care specialist, was the first MetroHealth employee to receive the COVID-19 shot.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," Dr. Williams said, minutes before she received the shot. 

Despite her initial fears, Williams later said the vaccine felt like any other shots she has ever received and she felt fine after. 

Dr. Sherrie Williams (left) was the first MetroHealth employee to get the COVID-19 vaccine, followed by the hospital system's chief of police Frank Bova (right). [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic, and the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center received hundreds of doses of the vaccine on Tuesday. 

Employees who work directly with COVID-19 patients in emergency rooms and the intensive care unit (ICU) were among the first to receive the shots. 

"I think this is an important thing to do, and sometimes we have to put aside all fears for what is the right thing, the important thing, to do," Williams said. 

Williams is also the medical director of MetroHealth's pharmacy and cares for COVID-19 patients in the ICU. She saw a COVID-19 patient in the ICU die as recently as Wednesday morning, she said. 

"It's exhausting, and it's heartbreaking, quite honestly, and if I ever had a doubt or a moment of fear about doing this vaccine, all I had to do was think about all the people that I've lost," Williams added.  

"Young people, old people, people that I'm just now meeting, and watching their families be devastated," she said. 

MetroHealth officials plan to vaccinate 400 caregivers Wednesday, and another 400 Thursday. The hospital received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and all of those doses will be administered by Friday, said Ryan Mezinger, associate director of retail pharmacy operations. 

Marty Spies, an internal medicine resident at MetroHealth who got vaccinated Wednesday, said he was not nervous to get the shot. 

“This is the best way to kind of get back to normalcy in life, so I’m excited for that,” he said. 

Like Williams, Spies said he felt fine after. 

“It didn’t hurt any more than a normal vaccine,” he said.  

Marty Spies, an internal medicine resident at MetroHealth, reviews information about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as he waits to be called back to get the shot on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

After receiving the vaccine, health care workers sat in a waiting area for 15 minutes to monitor for any immediate side effects or allergic reactions. Once that time was up, they could return to work if they were feeling well. 

No employees had reported any adverse effects as of about an hour after vaccinations began, officials told ideastream. 

The vaccine is administered in two doses, so caregivers will be notified in several weeks of when they are eligible to sign up for their next dose, officials said. 

The employees who received the Pfizer vaccine at MetroHealth Wednesday will have to wait about three weeks before receiving the next shot, Mezinger said, and they cannot go to a different provider for that second dose. 

Experts recommend people get the second dose 17 to 24 days after receiving the first shot, so employees’ next appointment will likely be around the first week of January, Mezinger said. 

The employees will not have full immunity for COVID-19 until after the second dose, he said. 

MetroHealth employees that received the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 16 sit in a waiting area after getting their shots to monitor for symptoms or side effects. They were each given a timer set for 15 minutes, and if they felt well after the timer went off, they could return to work. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

“They will have some protection, but nowhere near the 90 percent,” Mezinger said. Pfizer reported its vaccine was 95 percent effective after clinical trials concluded.

To inoculate all of MetroHealth’s front line workers, the health system would need about 5,000 vaccines, President and CEO Dr. Akram Boutros said. This first batch is a very small supply, he said. 

“Our hierarchy is this: the more exposure you have to COVID patients or possibly COVID patients, the higher up you go on the list,” he said. “So, me? I sit in my office most of the time, I don’t have a lot of exposure. I’m at the very end of the list.” 

In addition to front line workers, employees who clean the hospital rooms or serve on security staff are at the top of the list, he said. 

Non-medical staff, such as IT employees, will be vaccinated in the second wave, around the beginning of the 2021, he added. 

Front line employees who do not get the Pfizer vaccine this first round will be on deck to receive shots from drug company Moderna next week, he said. 

The Moderna vaccine is expected to be authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration later this week. 

While the doses from Pfizer and Moderna will be limited, Boutros said that could change once the vaccines are more widely available to the general public. 

“We expect to partner with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and vaccinate over a thousand people a day,” he said. 

Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland VA hospital also began vaccinating front line employees Wednesday. Aultman Hospital in Canton began employee vaccinations after receiving the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday. 


Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.