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‘A lifesaver’: COVID-19 vaccine brings hope to UMN medical workers

As thousands of vaccines roll out, University of Minnesota medical workers say they can see an end to the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Hai-Thien Phu, a Second Year Internal Medicinal and Pediatrics Resident at the U.
Photo courtesy of Hai-Thien Phu, a Second Year Internal Medicinal and Pediatrics Resident at the U.

Just over a month ago, Dr. Hai-Thien Phu, an internal medicine and pediatrics resident with the University of Minnesota Medical School, received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Phu is one of the thousands of University hospital workers who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Jan. 28, more than 26,000 hospital staff at M Health Fairview have been vaccinated, and at least 20,000 of them have received both doses.

At 8 a.m., after working an overnight shift, Phu joined her colleagues in line for the vaccine. She chatted with a fellow resident as they waited, with growing anticipation as they moved forward.

Despite working long hours in a COVID-19 unit, Phu said she did not feel the end-of-shift fatigue that she typically faces.

“I felt giddy with excitement,” she said. “It felt like waiting to open a Christmas present on Christmas Eve.”

After a quick shot in the arm, Phu had to wait 10 minutes to see if she would have a reaction; Then she was headed home, feeling safer and more hopeful than she had in months.

Aimee Jordan, media relations manager for M Health Fairview, attended the first vaccine clinic on Dec. 19 and said it was a day full of hope.

“People were crying, and not just the people getting the vaccines. The people giving the vaccines [cried], as well,” she said. “When you work in healthcare, you look at every single one of those doses as a lifesaver.”

At the event, Jordan also saw people taking selfies, sending their loved ones messages and posting on social media about their vaccination.

“We want to encourage [healthcare workers] to share their excitement on their own social channels, so that we can encourage other people in the public to get the vaccine when it’s the right time for them,” she said.

Hollie Lawrence, a University College of Pharmacy alum and critical care pharmacist at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, said she loved to share her vaccine experience online. She saw it as an educational opportunity and a way to normalize being vaccinated.

Since the vaccine has become more readily available for hospital workers, there has been a greater sense of hope spreading across the hospital.

“I definitely see a sense of positivity. I feel a different energy: excitement,” Lawrence said.

The doctors and nurses said the vaccine is a sign of the end — a symbol of hope and a return to normalcy.

“I see a spring in some of our steps,” Phu said.

But there is still more work to be done before then, Phu said, so even though the energy of the workplace may have changed, the COVID-19 practices have not.

Phu said that for all of her shifts, she still dons a surgical mask. When interacting with COVID-positive patients, she also wears an N95 mask and face shield. She continues to physically distance herself from her friends, orders takeout and spends more time with her new puppies than in the community.

“Watching others die, sometimes die alone in the hospitals, unable to see their family members, takes a toll on me, my heart and my soul,” Dr. Phu said. “But this vaccine gives me hope.”

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