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Pierre pharmacist describes personal COVID vaccination experience

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The first shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Pierre a week or so later than when vaccinations first began in South Dakota. Since then, however, Avera Health Group officials have been working to get shots in arms for the first priority vaccination groups.

South Dakota Department of Health officials said vaccinations will begin in the 1D priority group this week. This includes those who are:

65 and older,

high-risk people,

in congregate living settings,

people with two or more underlying health conditions,

teachers and school staff, and

funeral service workers.

Officials anticipate this should take the whole month to complete. Avera St. Mary’s, however, is not quite there yet.

“Over the next two to three weeks, Avera St. Mary’s Hospital will be finishing up phase 1C, which includes public health workers, dentists, and law enforcement. With the announcement from the state that we can move into phase 1D, Avera is compiling patient lists based on the risk factors defined by the state and we will begin reaching out to eligible recipients in the next few weeks, starting with people who are age 80 and over, transplant patients, and patients receiving cancer and dialysis treatment,” Avera St. Mary’s spokesperson Sigrid Wald Swanson said.

“Because the supply is limited, COVID-19 vaccine is being administered in phases,” Wald Swanson added. “For many, it may be weeks or months, depending on age and risk factors. Appointment availability is highly dependent on the continued production, availability and delivery of the vaccines. As the vaccine supply increases, additional people within phase 1D will be able to get vaccinated.”

Personal Experience

Ashley Severyn, a staff pharmacist at Avera St. Mary’s, was one of the first health care workers in Pierre to receive a vaccination for COVID-19. Severyn got her first shot on Dec. 23, while her second dose is scheduled for Thursday. She said she wanted to get vaccinated against COVID for a lot of reasons, one of which was her job.

“Health care workers have had to continue to go to their jobs and function a lot like we did before COVID,” Severyn said. “To continue to care for patients, we need to be healthy, and this is one way to stay healthy.”

Severyn said vaccination does not negate the need for other mitigation measures, such as social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing.

“I feel a relief knowing I have some immunity, but it’s still very important to wear a mask and social distance; these are things we’re going to have to do for quite a while. There’s a long time until we reach herd immunity,” she said.

To the best of her knowledge, most people in her department got the vaccination. Her direct supervisor is in charge of storing the vaccine, which needs to be refrigerated, and has played a big role in its distribution. Severyn herself is on the vaccination team, and is signed up to administer vaccines later this week.

“We were all pretty excited,” Severyn said of the vaccine’s arrival. “It’s an overall feeling of relief — we can finally do something about this.”

Even if Severyn was not a front line health care worker, she said she would still have gotten a COVID vaccine. She said she thinks of the COVID vaccination the same way she thinks about the influenza vaccination: it’s more about protecting other people than about protecting yourself.

“It’s very important not just for you, but also for your neighbors. It sounds corny, but it’s for the greater good— you don’t need to be a health care worker to help people help themselves. This can help save hundreds of lives and help people from losing loved ones to this terrible virus,” she said.

Severyn has a son that is nearly 2 years old, and she has not been able to see her grandmother due to COVID. Getting vaccinated is the first step to safely being able to interact with them again.

“I’ve felt helpless,” she said. “This is the first step to [getting back to] doing things we want to do. It’s a good morale boost; we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The vaccine itself hurt less initially than a flu shot does, according to Severyn’s experience, but a few hours later her arm became very sore.

“It was tolerable, but sore. The pain after was a little more than a flu shot, but it went away more quickly,” she said.

Severyn said she doesn’t know what to expect with the second dose, but she’s not worried about it.

“A day or two of feeling crappy is a lot better than COVID,” she said. “It’s worth a couple days or house of not being 100% rather than being really sick for a long period of time.”

Severyn’s advice to people who are hesitant about getting any vaccination should talk with their health care provider or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which features plenty of information on the COVID vaccine.

“Many studies have shown that the vaccine is very effective, and I would say the CDC is the best resource you can look at for that,” Severyn said.

She said she would ‘definitely” advise people to get vaccinated when they are able to: “The only way to completely stop the spread is for people to get vaccinated.”

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution in South Dakota, visit the state health department’s website at https://doh.sd.gov/COVID/Vaccine/.

Also on Monday, officials with Sanford Health said they will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals that fall in to the phase 1D category this week, beginning with South Dakota residents 80-years and older.

“This is another historic and exciting milestone in our efforts to defeat this pandemic,” said Dr. Michael Wilde, vice president medical officer for Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. “This is a moment we have been waiting months for and we’re pleased to begin offering the vaccine to the public.”

“The vaccine is safe and effective,” Wilde added. “Aside from the things we’ve been doing for months now, such as frequent hand washing, wearing a mask and social distancing, the vaccine is really the last leg of the race towards ending this pandemic and returning to a new sense of normal.”

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