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Coronavirus

‘Relief Is Coming’: COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin At Outstate Missouri Hospitals

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla on December 29.
Phelps Health
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla on Tuesday.

ROLLA — The past two weeks have been difficult for Ed Clayton. The CEO of Phelps Health has been sending exhausted doctors and nurses in for 12-hour shifts to take care of patients with COVID-19, while TV and social media show image after image of front-line health care workers in St. Louis and Kansas City being vaccinated.

“To watch the news, or watch other hospitals’ Facebook sites as they have received the vaccine, and we haven't gotten it yet — that’s a difficult pill to swallow,” Clayton said.

Phelps Health hospital in Rolla received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and immediately started vaccinating staff.

“It’s a little silver lining of this terrible year we have been through,” said Anglea DeLaria, a Phelps Health nurse who was among the first to get vaccinated. “Relief is coming. This is going to get better.”

The arrival of the vaccine wasn’t without complications. The hospital was expecting the Moderna vaccine. But miscommunication between the state and federal governments reduced the number of doses that arrived in Missouri.

Clayton said that meant all Moderna doses were redirected to long-term care facilities, and hospitals like his received the Pfizer vaccine instead.

“There has been a lot of confusion in different places in the state related to that. We're just pleased that we were able to get the vaccine, I think it was a day later than what we had anticipated,” Clayton said.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at much lower temperatures. Phelps Health temporarily has been able to handle that with dry ice and has ordered more robust refrigeration units.

Clayton also said the arrival of the vaccine does not mean the fight against COVID-19 is over. He said people need to keep practicing what he calls “the big three”: wearing a mask, social distancing and hand hygiene.

“To me, the vaccine is like the fourth leg of the stool that will finally make the stool sturdy and allow us to win the battle,” Clayton said. “But the other three legs need to stay strong.”

Clayton said Phelps Health has another order for vaccines in, but he doesn’t know when it will arrive. He said other hospitals in the state are still waiting for their first doses.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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