Some took photos, some shot videos.
Some winced and at least one cried tears of joy.
Those were the recipients.
The people on the other side of the needle, those who administer the COVID-19 vaccines, have a different reaction, often one you can’t see.
They feel like they’re helping to save the world. And behind the mask, they say, that emotion is a powerful drug.
“This is a monumental moment,” said Wayne Littlejohn, director of the critical care unit at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and one of several health care professionals administering the vaccine. “This could be what helps us change our course in the pandemic.”
Joann Perea, a career nurse at the hospital, has watched as her colleagues cheer and take photos of her administering the shot to them. She gets it.
Actually, she loves it.
“This pandemic is history, we’re living in that history,” she said. “This is something our grandkids and kids are gonna be reading about in the history books for years to come.”
Interviews with those giving the shots, be they veterans or novices, described the excitement of delivering a dose of something that, for many, is much more than a vaccine.
With each shot, they are delivering hope. And it’s coming from providers whose work, in another time and place, may have gone unnoticed.
After all, how often do you pay attention to the person administering the flu shot? The shingles vaccine? For most people, getting an injection was a forgettable experience, if not unpleasant. Now, it’s something else entirely.
“In general, we are seeing a lot of joy in people that we don’t see a lot in hospitals these days,” said nurse Jessica James, a 20-year veteran. “People coming in to get it are excited. We’re hoping this is the beginning of the end.”
As the coronavirus vaccines have rolled out, state leaders prioritized front-line health care workers for the shot first, since dosages remain limited. Next up are nursing homes and congregate care facilities, which have been epicenters of virus outbreaks.
In an interesting twist, the beginning of the end of the pandemic starts with one of the most common chores in the medical field — delivering a shot.
“Being a nurse — any nurse — you are trained to give any kind of vaccination,” Perea said. “It’s not specific to one particular vaccine. It’s Nursing 101.”
But a common, almost reflexive duty has brought on a tidal wave of feelings, both for the deliverer and the recipient.
“The people receiving the vaccine are very thankful,” said James. “In general, like flu clinics, it can be commonplace, but this is more emotional. You feel you are personally doing something to end the pandemic. You are both taking the shot and giving the shot.”
James and others said they felt a minimum of pain when they received the vaccine. The next day, they had sore arms, but nothing to write home about.
Nurse Alejandra Salinas, who started working in the hospital’s emergency room just weeks before the COVID-19 crisis started in New Mexico in March, researched the Pfizer vaccine before she began administering it. That made it easier for her to answer questions from those who were getting the shot.
She was “a little scared” to receive the vaccine herself because it was so new and came out so quickly, she said.
But, she said, “How could I tell people not to get the vaccine if I hadn’t gotten it?”
An emergency room nurse, she said she and others giving the shot often say “congratulations” to those receiving it.
“People are excited because they know this is a big thing that is happening,” she said.
The virus hit close to her home when her grandfather contracted it. She was the one who drove him to the emergency room. Fortunately, he survived.
“Now when I go into a room and somebody is sick, it makes me think, ‘This is somebody’s mom, somebody’s dad, somebody’s grandpa, somebody’s grandma,'” she said. “It makes you think twice about what you are doing and why you are doing it.
“For me, now, it’s about the vaccine working and getting it out to the population and people believing in and getting it.”
One injection at a time.