Registered nurse Emily Shearer gets the coronavirus vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Centre County. (Courtesy of Mount Nittany Medical Center) Emily Shearer
Registered nurse Emily Shearer gets the coronavirus vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Centre County. (Courtesy of Mount Nittany Medical Center)

As more and more front-line workers are inoculated against the novel coronavirus, the essential work force has stepped up once again to let people know the vaccine is safe.

For Dr. Lauren Smith, getting the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday was no different than the flu shot. 

But the inoculation brought tears to her eyes, something the flu shot has never done.

“I cried a little bit as I drove into the hospital in the pre-dawn hours to get my COVID-19 vaccine,” the York Hospital OB/GYN wrote in a Facebook post early Saturday morning. “The tears weren’t out of fear or nervousness, but relief and gratitude.”

Eighty-three Pennsylvania hospitals across 66 counties received direct shipments last week of 97,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the state Department of Health. Philadelphia received 13,650 doses in its own coordinated shipment with the federal government.

York Hospital did not mandate that front-line workers receive the vaccine, but Smith said there was never a question in her mind about whether she’d get it.

“I work with a high-risk population,” she said. “I don’t want to be a vector.”

The direct care staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College got its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday. In total, the health system has received approximately 1,000 vaccines so far.

Getting the vaccination is voluntary for Mount Nittany health providers and staff, but feedback from a staff survey suggested that most of the personnel intended to be vaccinated, said Dr. Nirmal Joshi, Chief Medical Officer.

Registered nurse Emily Shearer, who works in critical care services at the medical center, was one of the first front-line workers at the center to be immunized.

“I cannot express how excited I am that the vaccine has been developed,” Shearer said. “I work with COVID-positive inpatients on almost every one of my shifts.”

The additional line of protection makes her feel safer, Shearer said. Not only at work, but also going home to her family every day.

Smith also was confident in her decision, saying that although the COVID-19 vaccine itself is new, the technology behind it is not. 

“In the 1940s and 1950s, it took years to develop the vaccines that stopped polio in its tracks,” Smith said in her Facebook post Saturday. “Today’s scientists stand on the backs of giants, and have learned from and built upon all of the lessons and brilliance of those who came before them.

“I’m thankful that I live in an age where immunological science has been around long enough to develop a safe and effective vaccine this fast. I am SO proud to be a practicing physician and woman of science right now.”

More doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive this week, and 198,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive this week.

The state Department of Health plans to distribute the vaccines in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Healthcare personnel, emergency medical services first responders, and residents and staff of nursing homes;
  • Phase 2: Critical workers, people with high-risk conditions, and people with vaccine access challenges;
  • Phase 3: General public.

Some people have expressed concerns about negative side effects from the vaccine, but such side effects are extremely rare.

Pfizer’s trial found the vaccine was about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, and people who were inoculated did not encounter any serious adverse effects.

Personally, Smith said, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any potential side effects. Neither Smith nor anyone she has talked to has experienced adverse reactions. She said she has heard of only one person complaining of a sore arm.

“This is a milestone day and we’re all incredibly hopeful that this is the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” Joshi said. “We’ve all waited so long for this glimmer of hope, and we couldn’t ask for a better gift this holiday season.”