Mitchell area residents express relief with arrival of COVID-19 vaccine
Area residents line up for life-saving shots
It’s been a long, painful year of fighting COVID-19.
But the all-important vaccinations administered at a clinic held recently by Avera Health in Mitchell were painless.
“You wouldn’t know you had gotten (the shot) if they hadn’t told you,” Gary Van Roekel told the Mitchell Republic of the COVID-19 vaccination shot he received Friday, March 5.
Van Roekel, Mitchell, was one of hundreds of area residents who converged Friday on the Avera Patient Financial Services building on 15th Avenue to receive their first dose of the Moderna variant of the vaccine. The clinic was one of the regularly scheduled events organized by Avera Health to administer the vaccine.
And it was well-attended. Avera officials estimated that 600 doses of the vaccine would be distributed at the clinic, with many of those receiving shots Friday qualifying for the shots due to being over the age of 65, one of the more recent groups to open up on the South Dakota State Department of Health vaccine rollout schedule.
Van Roekel, 68, was relieved to get his first dose of the vaccine, primarily for the benefits it provides to others around him.
“More for the people I’m around and my granddaughter,” Van Roekel said.
Van Roekel knows the devastating impact the disease can take. He said he had lost aunts and uncles to COVID-19, and he recently read in his hometown newspaper about an old schoolmate who died from the disease.
He said he had no hesitancy about receiving his shots once he qualified for them. Members of his family have taken the opportunity to get vaccinated when they can so they can keep themselves and their neighbors safe, while also hopefully returning to a sense of normalcy that people enjoyed before the arrival of the coronavirus.
“My wife has it scheduled in two weeks, and my daughter, because she works for the Mayo Clinic, she’s got it already,” Van Roekel said.
The clinic Friday was an impressive feat of organization, he said.
“I can’t believe how soon you’re in and out. Thay have it organized,” Van Roekel said.
Also on hand to receive a vaccination was Larry Hostler. The 69-year-old from Mount Vernon also received a shot due to his being over the age of 65, something he has been looking forward to since the pandemic upended life in 2020.
"I remember going through some of the shots lines, like for polio. Sometimes it would take decades to get a vaccine, and this was developed in 10% of the time of that. Five to seven months. It’s a miracle, it really is."
— Larry Hostler
“My wife has some health issues, so when this thing all broke a year ago, we’ve been hibernating ever since. We’re not doing any of the crowd stuff,” Hostler said. “We listen to the CDC instead of the politicians, I guess. They probably know better than anyone, so we listen to what they say. And apparently it must be working because it looks like it’s going in the right direction.”
While the pandemic is very much still alive, efforts to combat it have been making inroads in the last few months. Active cases in South Dakota have fallen from as high as over 19,000 cases in November to just over 2,000 cases this week, and hospitalizations have also dropped as social distancing measures and mask-wearing have become social norms.
As of Tuesday, statistics from the South Dakota Department of Health indicate that 30% of the state population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 261,885 doses having been administered to 169,877 people. Nearly 16% of the population has received their complete series of vaccine shots.
Hostler said he and his wife have been diligent make-wearers when they need to go out, and other family members in the medical field encouraged him to get his shots as soon as he was able.
“I have two daughters who are nurses, one is the director of nursing at (Mitchell Tech) and the other works for Sanford in Sioux Falls, and they said, get in line. Get your vaccine,” Hostler said.
The fact that there is a vaccine for a relatively new disease, let alone three vaccines, is an amazing development and a testament to the work scientists have done to help bring a solution to the global crisis, he said. Being old enough to remember vaccination efforts from years past, Hostler said he was impressed.
“I remember going through some of the shots lines, like for polio. Sometimes it would take decades to get a vaccine, and this was developed in 10% of the time of that. Five to seven months. It’s a miracle, it really is,” Hostler said.
Carol Weiss, who recently retired after 33 years in the Dakota Wesleyan University business office, summed up her feelings about receiving her first dose of vaccine simply.
“It was like hope,” Weiss said. “There is hope out there. And I can’t wait to get that second shot.”
Like others, she had confidence in the vaccine and the work that went into developing it. She had done her own research, reading up and talking to people about the vaccine, coming to the conclusion that it was in everyone’s best interest to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
“I was ready. I guess I’d done a lot of research and reading and talking to people. I have faith in it,” Weiss said.
And the process Friday was smooth, she said. It was almost a kind of celebration, even if most of the joy was hidden behind masks.
“It’s a cross section, There are older people in wheelchairs and people with canes and younger people. And the facilities are perfect. It’s all one level and open, it makes it easier for a lot of people to reach it,” Weiss said.
Weiss has also partially withdrawn from social life since the onset of the pandemic. She said she has regularly worn a mask in addition to jumping on board the vaccine wagon to help protect family and friends. And while she believes that has been an effective measure to take, she looks forward to a time when masks become a thing of the past.
“I have no idea how much longer we’re going to have to wear masks, but it would be nice to be able to see people’s faces again. The laughter in their eyes,” Weiss said. “But I’ll continue wearing it as long as I need it.”
Vaccine distribution is expected to continue until at least May as the South Dakota Department of Health moves through its list of prioritized patients. Avera officials estimated it had distributed 4,700 doses of vaccine across 27 clinics as of Friday at its Mitchell area clinics. Currently in Phase 1D of the rollout, the next group on the list to qualify for vaccinations will be funeral workers, followed by fire department personnel and then other critical infrastructure workers. After that, vaccination of the general population age 16 and over will begin.
Local teachers in Mitchell will also begin receiving vaccinations through Lewis Drug on Thursday. Pharmacies in South Dakota recently began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to educators, after the Biden administration required the federal program that sends vaccine doses to pharmacies open access to teachers.
If everyone continues to come together and do what they can to help end the pandemic, hopefully the number of vaccinations will continue to rise and the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to drop. Weiss said that’s the goal she’s hoping everyone achieves.
“I like to see those (vaccination) numbers grow,” Weiss said.