Vaccine rollout begins at Mercy Hospital Ardmore

Michael D. Smith
Dr. Lindsay Wilson (right) receives the first COVID-19 vaccination in Carter County on Wednesday. The emergency room physician said she was excited to be the first to receive the vaccine.

Ask Dr. Lindsay Wilson about being the first recipient of the COVID-19 vaccine at Mercy Hospital Ardmore and her voice swells with excitement. Ask the emergency physician about the current state of affairs as the health care industry struggles under the weight of an historic pandemic and you hear a calculated scientist.

Ask her how her job has changed since the onset of the pandemic and tears fill her eyes while her voice begins to break.

“Every physician goes into medicine because they love human interaction and they love human touch,” Wilson said on Wednesday evening.

“But that in itself — in order to stay protected and in the game of fighting this on the front lines — has kind of been withdrawn because you have to stay healthy,” she said moments after receiving the first of two doses.

Wilson was one of five emergency department physicians to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday during what was described by hospital administration as a “soft open” to work out details. By Thursday morning, dozens of the most at-risk workers will receive the vaccine in a process that will continue through Saturday.

The vaccines at Mercy Hospital Ardmore are among the initial 33,000 vaccines received in Oklahoma on Monday. The Oklahoma State Department of Health began shipping the drugs to health care providers across the state this week with front line workers to be the first recipients.

Tyler Hillis, who was named vice president of operations for Mercy Hospital Ardmore last month, said an exact number of doses available in this first round is difficult to give considering vials may provide between five and seven doses. The drugs were shipped from Mercy Hospital Ada earlier in the day Wednesday on dry ice considering they must be stored at extremely cold temperatures.

Once the thawing process started in Ardmore about 5 p.m., the clock started on inoculating as many employees as possible within five days. Hillis said that the vaccines will not be strictly for front line workers at Mercy Hospital Ardmore.

“We’ve split some of our doses up with some of the other hospitals in the area —Healdton, Love County — some of our EMS crews, and at nursing homes,” he said.

A nurse at Mercy Hospital Ardmore prepares to administer the first COVID-19 vaccine to a coworker Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Dozens of front line workers will receive the first of two doses through Saturday with the second round expected to arrive locally in about four weeks.

Hillis described a complex logistical system to coordinate where vaccines would go for the first round. He said the state health department worked directly with Pfizer to determine where vaccines would be shipped and offered assistance for administering vaccines.

He also described the network of local pharmacists, IT professional, nurses and other administrators needed to coordinate distribution in southern Oklahoma. “It’s really been a team effort,” he said.

The vaccine rollouts that started in Oklahoma this week are the first of a multi-phase process that gets vaccines to the most at-risk populations like health care workers, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health deputy commissioner Keith Reed.

"The first people to receive the vaccine will be frontline healthcare workers, followed soon after by long-term care facility staff members and residents and public health staff who are critical to the COVID-19 vaccination program,” Reed said in a Monday statement.

According to the OSDH vaccination plan, widespread availability of the vaccine is not expected until well into 2021.

The first vial of COVID-19 vaccine used at Mercy Hospital Ardmore sits empty Wednesday. Mercy Hospital Ardmore President Daryle Voss, who watched as the first doses were administered, said this vial would likely be kept by the hospital as a memento.

Wilson believes that the vaccine will keep her healthy enough to continue the fight in Mercy Hospital Ardmore’s emergency department until more people can also receive the vaccine. She had treated multiple COVID-19 patients just earlier in the day and said many patients that come through her doors with COVID-19 are surprised that the disease is so widespread and severe.

“I would say probably 90% of the time people are shocked when we say they have COVID-19,” she said. 

The impact of the pandemic on local health care is more than just the growing number of COVID-19 cases needing acute care. Wilson said there are other routine aspects of her job that are becoming more difficult, like treating appendicitis, strokes and heart attacks. 

“There’s just so much volume daily that it’s not anything that we are used to,” she said.

So until the pandemic is over, Wilson and other front line workers will continue to treat those who can be treated. The stakes are high and the job is difficult, but some of the most devastating effects from almost 10 months of a pandemic have had little to do with health care.

“I am a doctor, but first I am a wife and I am a daughter and I am an aunt. I haven't been in my parents’ house since Feburary of 2020, and that in itself is emotional,” she said