‘This vaccine gives us a weapon’

Karen Dann, registered nurse and administrator of Country Terrace receives the region's first COVID-19 vaccine. Tracy Benedict, a public health nurse with the Middlesex London Health Unit, administered the shot, December 23, 2020. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

In what she called a “momentous occasion,” a Komoka long-term care home nurse has become the region’s first person to roll up her sleeve for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Karen Dann, registered nurse and administrator at Country Terrace Nursing Home, received her first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday morning at the Western Fair Agriplex.

“This is going to be a game changer for us,” said Dann after receiving her shot. “We’ve got our armour, but we never had a weapon. Today we have a weapon. The COVID-19 vaccine is the weapon we needed to defeat COVID.”

Dann was visibly happy as Tracy Benedict, a public health nurse with the Middlesex London Health Unit, administered the shot. The historic moment was met with a roar of applause from the few in attendance at the Agriplex, the site of the COVID-19 field hospital and vaccination centre.

“It is just a momentous occasion to know that we are now going to move ahead to a better time,” said Dann. “We are not going to be under the pressure we have been under at nursing homes.”

Country Terrace is one of of eight local long-term care facilities currently battling an outbreak of COVID-19.

Before leaving, Dann was given an appointment to receive her second dose, which has to be given 21 days after the first shot to fully inoculate a person against the virus.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, the vaccine will be administered to 120 long-term care workers in the region.

A toll-free phone line has been set-up for area long-term care employees to call and register for an appointment to receive the shot. Since Tuesday, more than 1,000 appointments have been booked.

The London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is operating the vaccination centre in partnership with the health unit. Vaccinations will be administered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. two days this week and four days next week. There are plans to expand the hours of operation to 12 hours a day within the next two weeks.

“It will depend on staff availability and how many doses we have left,” said Neil Johnson, LHSC’s chief operating officer. “The first couple of weeks or month on this there is going to be a bit of joggling.”

Johnson declined to disclose how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine London-Middlesex received in its first shipment, only confirming it was “several thousand.”

“We have been physically distancing and wearing masks, but this is the only thing that is going to turn the corner for our communities and the only thing that is going to turn the corner for our country,” Johnson said of the vaccine. “The people here are going to be noting this in their diary as a big day for them participating. We are pumped about this.”

Mayor Ed Holder tweeted that while seeing the first vaccine go into the arm of an area resident is cause for celebration Londoners need to remain vigilant to protect against COVID-19.

“This is the beginning of the end, and a cause for celebration. It’s not cause, however, for letting our guards down. The vaccine has arrived, it’s being administered, but this will take time. Let’s stay focused, determined and committed. We’re almost there,” tweeted Holder.

Everyone entering the vaccination centre is screened for the virus upon arrival. They then make their way to the vaccination area to receive the shot before being led to one of three waiting area pods where they are required to sit for 15 minutes to ensure they do not have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Appointments to receive the second dose are made prior to leaving the facility.