'It's like getting a golden ticket': Altru Devils Lake staff receives Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Altru Devils Lake family medicine physician Dr. Stephanie Foughty receives the COVID-19 vaccine

The holidays arrived early at Altru Clinic Devils Lake as on Dec. 17, the clinic received its first doses of the approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. It was less than 24 hours later that cheering erupted inside the clinic as 18 staff members received their first dose of the vaccine. 

"We've had multiple staff members say it's like getting a golden ticket," Altru Devils Lake family medicine physician Dr. Stephanie Foughty said. "The doses came in Thursday but we wanted to give them Friday just in case anyone had any side effects. The mood was very positive, a lot of excitement, and some cheering when the first dose was given."

The staff received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Dec. 18 and will receive the next dose 21 days later. Altru Devils Lake is also expecting the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to arrive at the clinic sometime this week, which is also given in two doses, but the second dose is administered 28 days later. Foughty said they are expecting to administer the overall total of 30-40 vaccines this week and 60-70 by the beginning of 2021. 

There have been some minor side effects according to Foughty such as a sore arm, body aching, and a headache, but most of the staff members said the side effects feel similar to getting any other shot. The small side effects don't concern the staff members as they have seen the impact COVID-19 has had on patients who have come to the clinic. 

"I think all of us have seen how sick some of our patients are coming into the clinic with COVID that we feel the risk of getting COVID far outweighs the risk of some mild side effects," Foughty said. "Getting the injection itself stings a little bit, nobody likes getting a shot, but it's no different than getting a flu shot or a tetanus shot." 

While the vaccine is administered, healthcare workers and scientists around the world are still trying to figure out how long immunity lasts for the vaccine. Various studies are showing that there are several months of immunity from the virus, however, Foughty sees the vaccine as giving those in health care time to improve upon the vaccine and find additional treatments while maintaining immunity from the vaccine they have already taken.

Altru Devils Lake Clinic Dr. Derek Wayman receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

"The reality is, in order to get back to some resemblance of normal or close to normal, we have to have herd immunity through the vaccine," Foughty said. "The idea of herd immunity through infection would result in so much of the population having to be infected that we would see higher death rates in the state than we would see now. As a health care provider, I find that options not acceptable."

"I've told people let's just say the immunity of the vaccine lasts six months. That gives us six months to come up with additional treatments and six months to learn about this virus we still don't know a lot about." 

The staff at Altru Devils Lake is thrilled that the vaccine has arrived. They know that things aren't going to change immediately on Jan. 1, but it's a light at the end of the tunnel according to Foughty. With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, the mood has lightened inside the clinic as they being to move in the right direction. These last nine months have been hard on healthcare workers around the world and the arrival of the vaccine has given them a boost in hope. 

"It feels good to see that the vaccine is out," Foughty said. "It's the first time in a long time when I look at social media and just the general mood in the hospital and the clinic, it is significantly lighter than it has been in months. People just feel better in general about where we are heading." 

Things have continued to improve state-wide in reference to COVID-19, but health care professionals are preparing for a wave of new cases as the holidays arrive. Foughty said testing has been down in the state possibly due to people not wanting to quarantine during the holidays. There are still ways to celebrate, but precaution needs to be taken in order to keep everyone safe. 

"If you're sick at all, you need to stay home," Foughty said. "I understand that is not a fun thing and no one wants to miss out on Christmas, but if you're sick at all you need to stay home. If you want to celebrate with family members it's really important to keep those gathering small, ideally 10 or less. If you're having dinner, consider spacing out and keep areas as well ventilated as you can. We know people are struggling with the months and months of isolation, but we need to keep our most vulnerable population safe too." 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.