The sun has just come up. It is 6 am and 18 pairs of eyes are staring at two Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem nurses. One nurse is seated and the other is standing over her, a needle in hand. Ambulatory Division Director Dorit Weil-Lotan is about to be the first Hadassah staffer injected with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
One by one the other nurses observing this historic milestone take their turns at injecting and receiving the vaccination. “Taking notes about what we saw, we watched each other to see if there was a reaction,” says Weil-Lotan.
This is the nurses’ last chance to practice before they begin vaccinating some 5,000 hospital employees. It is the final step in the race to prepare for what may be the largest public health program Israel has ever run.
Weil-Lotan, American-born nurse Chava Gardner and nurse Tali Savir head the team, meeting with hospital pharmacists, logistic specialists and, of course, security personnel. They are recruiting nurses willing to give hours of service way beyond their shifts. Administrators are going to handle the paperwork so nurses can be free to inoculate.
“We need to get through the first round of injections for all staff who wish to be vaccinated before we begin the second round in 21 days,” says Weil-Lotan.
The vaccinations, all by appointment, take five seconds. Recipients wait 15 minutes to make sure they are not experiencing any side effects.
For Gardner the mass vaccination program “closes a circle,” she says. She was among the first nurses in March to volunteer for Hadassah's COVID-19 Outbreak Unit. Since then, she has managed Hadassah’s COVID-19 testing unit for staff and pre-op patients. Now she's giving the vaccine to prevent the virus.
“One of my tasks was to perform blood tests for individuals who had recuperated from COVID-19 and volunteered to visit patients in the Outbreak Unit,” says Gardner. A volunteer came up to me and said, ‘I know you.’ I asked how that was possible. She replied that when she was sick with COVID-19 and I was treating her, even though I was wearing full protective gear, she could see my compassionate eyes, and she recognized them. Moments like that have been very emotional.”
Weil-Lotan comments, “To have treated coronavirus patients was a first, and now to provide the vaccine is truly historic. We’re restoring the world to its proper order. Here at Hadassah, we nurses have adopted as our motto the words of the Israeli song Ani ve’ata neshaneh et ha’olam—You and I will change the world.”
Despite the euphoria and new hope that permeates the hospital, the nurses remain concerned that some members of the public, thinking the pandemic is over, will let their guard down.
“We’ve just opened another COVID-19 unit at Hadassah,” says Gardner. “I’m really nervous that the peak could be ahead of us. Masks, hygiene and social distancing are a must.”