JANESVILLE

Tara Pierce was excited to be among the first at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville to receive a coronavirus vaccination Sunday.

Pierce knows some people are afraid to get the vaccine, but she urged them to weigh their fear against what could happen without it.

“The CDC is working every day, getting what we call post-trial data to try to firm up why people are having these very rare allergic reactions to it,” the veteran pharmacist said minutes after she received the injection.

Severe allergic reactions typically show up right away. Only a handful have been reported nationwide since vaccine distribution started over a week ago.

SSM Health is following recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, keeping those vaccinated for 15 minutes of observation afterward. The CDC recommends a 30-minute wait for those who have a history of severe allergic reactions, which can be life-threatening.

“I’ve, unfortunately, seen a lot of people pass away from COVID here,” Pierce said, “The benefit highly outweighs the risk, and it’s not just mortality. The disease can be very debilitating for a long period of time. It can take people sometimes months to recover. There may be lasting effects from COVID. To avoid that, I think this new vaccine is amazing that way.”

As of Sunday, local authorities reported 111 COVID-19 deaths in Rock County, most of them in the past few months.

Pierce said she is impressed with the science used to make the vaccine, a different kind of process than has been used to make vaccines before, and she was excited to get it.

Pierce called it “astounding” that the Pfizer vaccine she received Sunday has been found to be effective 95% of the time, a higher rate than most vaccines.

Some front-line workers at SSM Health St. Mary’s-Janesville got the vaccine last week at the SSM sister hospital in Madison. The Janesville hospital began vaccinating all patient-contact workers Sunday and expects to complete that process in a week or two, said SSM spokeswoman Erica Mathis.

Wisconsin is in what it calls Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout, in which health-care workers and skilled nursing facility staff and residents are supposed to get the vaccine.

The next groups of people to get the vaccine, in Phase 1B, are expected to be those 75 and older and some “front line” workers who have frequent public contact, although those have not yet been fully defined.

A state health official said last week that Phase 1B probably won’t start until late winter or early spring.

The vaccines are arriving at an auspicious time of a dark year, a time that many traditions celebrate with lights during the darkest time of the year.

RN Claire Kuschel also got the vaccine Sunday, and like Pierce, she was smiling. She sees the event as “a light at the end of a long tunnel” for her colleagues, family and community.

“It’s been a tough time for all of us,” Kuschel said.

“This is the day that we’ve been waiting for,” said Eric Thornton, SSM Health St. Mary’s-Janesville president, who stressed that the disease will remain until the whole community gets vaccinated, and people still have to wear masks and take the other precautions.

Kuschel has seen how bad COVID-19 can get, and like Pierce, has feared bringing the virus home to her family, a husband who works in a grocery store and a daughter, almost 1.

Kuschel and her husband throw their clothes in the washer, shower and sanitize surfaces each time they come home from work.

“It’s a constant fear that we’re bringing it home,” she said.

Kuschel has felt the sadness of families as they talked to loved ones on the phone or on a video call. She has tried to comfort those patients, including one who was hearing final goodbyes.

Asked what she would say to those fearful of getting the vaccine, Kuschel said, “Have faith in the science and help us through this pandemic. … It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.”

Thornton said people need to decide for themselves whether to get the vaccine when their turn comes. He said people should listen to and trust the experts.

SSM employees are not required to get the vaccine, but they are highly encourage to do so, Mathis said.

“Be a smart consumer, take in all the information and make the best decision for yourself,” Thornton said.

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