'Hope on the horizon': Dr. Maggie Hagan discusses first days of vaccination at Ascension Via Christi

The day for which Maggie Hagan, MD, the infectious disease medical director at Wichita, Kan.-based Ascension Via Christi, had been waiting finally arrived Dec. 14 — she became one of the country's first physicians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Hagan was the first physician and second front-line healthcare worker from the Ascension health system to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Kristen Garrett, RN, a critical care nurse working in Ascension Via Christi's COVID-19 medical intensive care unit, received the health system's first dose amid the sounds of her colleagues' cheers and clapping.

The hospital had been preparing for this day for some time, as it had established a workgroup to create an overarching framework for COVID-19 vaccines' equitable distribution, both internally and externally. The workgroup, which Dr. Hagan called "a great collaboration," was led by Sam Antonios, MD, Ascension Via Christi's chief clinical officer, and included physicians, pharmacy leaders and ethics leaders. 

They held virtual meetings to continually review available data and formulate plans to ensure they could start their immunization effort as soon as possible. In alignment with most health systems' decisions, the workgroup decided front-line workers who are frequently face to face with COVID-19 patients should get the first doses.

"That does not just include doctors and nurses," Dr. Hagan said. "That includes our respiratory therapists, our lab personnel, our X-ray technicians, our environmental services personnel, our chaplains — people going in and out of the COVID-19 unit all the time have stepped up and in our first doses, we included many people from all of those different groups."

As glad as she was to receive the shot, Dr. Hagan thinks it's important to understand that healthcare workers receiving their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine does not equal immediate protection from the disease. According to Dr. Hagan, the first dose gives recipients about 50 percent protection from developing COVID-19, and the second dose provides a protection rate "somewhere in the 90s."

Dr. Hagan also noted that the vaccine will not be the only measure to help get the country out of its COVID-19 crisis. She emphasized a need for a continued focus on conventional methods to prevent COVID-19 transmission, such as mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding large crowds. In her opinion, this will need to be a mainstay until mass vaccination is achieved, which will take months at the very least.

"We want people to be as careful as possible, knowing there is hope on the horizon," Dr. Hagan said.

As people who are not included in the first allocations wait to receive their doses, Dr. Hagan hopes more people will become encouraged to get the shot once it's available to them. She said widespread immunity, which is achieved through vaccination, is the only way the COVID-19 crisis will end.

"A lot of people have a mild illness of COVID-19 and they're not very sick," she said. "They have to stay home and can't go do things, and they're in isolation. Then they get over it and say 'what's the big deal?' But I see the big deal every day. I see people that are dying from this — every single day. I'm hopeful people will step up and get vaccinated so we can prevent that side of COVID-19."

Dr. Hagan also encourages people to make sure they are reading reliable information from reputable sites to better understand COVID-19 vaccines' safety and efficacy, as there is much misinformation proliferating on social media. 

Though the nation still has much to do before it sees the end of its COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Hagan thinks the vaccine will play an integral role in that feat.

"Everyone who is reluctant to do this but also wants to go back to normal life and do all the things that they used to do before — you can't have both," she said.


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