This week marked a new beginning and historic moment for Mass Eye and Ear in the fight against COVID-19. After nearly a year working tirelessly on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first Mass Eye and Ear staff members received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a Mass General Brigham vaccine clinic. With enthusiasm, several employees took the first step in what many hope is a return to “normal,” fueled by an unprecedented scientific push that led to a vaccine.
The first batch of vaccines arrived on Tuesday, December 15, and the clinic began the following day. Four Mass Eye and Ear staff members were among the first to receive the vaccine. They were on the frontlines and working throughout the pandemic across all areas of the hospital, including nursing and environmental services.
Describing the vaccination as “painless,” the members of the hospital community said they are eager to do whatever they can to protect their patients and families.
“We are appreciative to our staff who stepped forward today to pave the way for all of our employees to be vaccinated. Like they have throughout this unprecedented and challenging time, they showed their courage and faith in the science,” said John Fernandez, President of Mass Eye and Ear. “We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and that is as important as we navigate this difficult surge.”
First vaccine recipients express hope
Nurse Samantha (Sam) Sullivan has spent time during the pandemic working in the adult and pediatric inpatient units, as well as the COVID recovery unit that was put in place during the spring surge. Her experiences firsthand on how COVID-19 reshaped everything about her job and life led her to be eager to get vaccinated as soon as it was available. She was thrilled to get the text from her boss Wednesday morning that she would be one of the first Mass Eye and Ear staff members vaccinated.
[Watch this video of Mass Eye and Ear Nurse Sam Sullivan receive the COVID-19 vaccine and share what it means to her.]
“I got the vaccine to protect my family and my patients,” she said. “I think it’s so important to get this out in our community and to not be afraid and to make sure we’re protecting everyone around us, especially the ones we care about.” She added, “Nothing has been the same since, and I’m just really excited to get back to our normal ways of life.”
Kristin Murphy, a nurse in the Emergency Department, echoed this sentiment. “Getting the COVID vaccine was super important to me,” she said. “Our lives have been really crazy this past year, and I feel like this was what we’ve been waiting for.”
“Our nurses have been heroic, stepping up and answering every call – here or at other hospitals when they were needed,” said Eileen Lowell, Senior Vice President Patient Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Mass Eye and Ear. “I’m so grateful for their dedication to our patients and colleagues, and I’m extremely proud of all of them and delighted to see them be among the first to get this vaccine.”
Sandra Ramirez, a member of the environmental services team who has worked at Mass Eye and Ear for seven years, said working during the pandemic was very difficult. She said it was really important for her to get vaccinated because she had many friends hospitalized due to COVID-19, and did not want the same to happen to her.
[Watch this video of Mass Eye and Ear staff member Sandra Ramirez receive the COVID-19 vaccine and share what it means to her.]
“I was not afraid. I would rather get a vaccine than be in the hospital,” she said.
“Environmental services were our unsung heroes of the pandemic. Their high standards and commitment ensured the hospital was safe and clean for our staff to treat all of the patients who needed our care,” said CarolAnn Williams, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Administration at Mass Eye and Ear.
One significant step in a long road ahead
While the introduction of a vaccine raises hopes for a return to normalcy one day soon, health officials nationwide and here in Massachusetts warn that there still will remain significant risk for some time. New guidelines released by Governor Charlie Baker this week urged residents to stay home and limit holiday gatherings to only people you live with, following case increases linked to gatherings over Thanksgiving.
Even with a vaccine being distributed, the need to continue to practice safety measures that have been implemented since the pandemic began will continue for some time and remain as important as ever to protect our health and that of those around us, according to Dr. Aalok Agarwala, Chief Medical Officer at Mass Eye and Ear.
“We are honored to join others in the fight to end the spread of coronavirus. There is great hope brought on by the vaccine, but it is important that we not let our guard down and must remain vigilant in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “We urge everyone to continue to practice social distancing, diligent hand hygiene and wearing a mask.”
For more information and resources about COVID-19, please visit www.MassEyeAndEar.org/covid19