This is our shot – Riley team members line up for vaccine

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The first day of vaccinations for front-line providers at Riley is met with joy, relief and a determination to end the nightmare of COVID-19.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Never has a group of people been so excited to get a shot in the arm. A shot of hope.

Front-line providers at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health rolled up their sleeves to get the newly approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 Friday morning.

“We’re all excited to be part of this,” said Maria Khan, a third-year medical student working on a surgical rotation at Riley. “There’s a lot of good energy here.”

Dr. Amanda Gripe even brought along her Dr. Anthony Fauci bobblehead to the appointment, calling the infectious disease expert her inspiration this year.

Dr. Riad Lutfi, pediatric intensive care unit physician at Riley, was among the early appointments and couldn’t wait to be part of such a historic moment in time.

“We’re lucky to be chosen early on to get the vaccine,” he said, “and we are very excited to be an example to everyone. I know our colleagues in the adult world have been struggling more than us, but we also know kids are getting sick.”

Not to mention colleagues and family members.

Dr. Lutfi shared that his own parents contracted COVID early in the pandemic’s assault on the United States. Both were admitted to IU Health Methodist Hospital for treatment and recovered.

“I watched my dad struggling to breathe before he was hospitalized,” the physician said.

It’s something he’ll never forget. Now, he said, “They are excited about the vaccine whenever their turn comes.”

His message to everyone is that the data regarding the vaccine’s efficacy is convincing, and he wants to see as many people vaccinated as soon as possible.

“This is our light to end this. The whole world is watching us getting vaccinated, and it is our duty to tell people this is real and this is safe and be sure it gets distributed to everyone equally.”

Michael McGregory, director of pharmacy at Riley, said things moved smoothly for the first day, during which an expected 288 front-line providers would be vaccinated. From this day on, with some modified hours for the holidays, the clinic, held in the Riley Outpatient Center lower level, will operate 12 hours a day seven days a week.

“Our team really came together to learn everything about the vaccine, how to prepare it, how to set this up on short notice to be ready for a successful launch,” he said.

It couldn’t have happened without extensive efforts on the part of many people at Riley and IU Health.

After five hours of sleep last night, Adam Karcz, director of infection control, said he still couldn’t wait to get out of bed this morning to help kick off the first day of the vaccine clinic.

“I’m really proud of how everyone chipped in to help with this – team members who have really taken the lead and all of our other partners at Riley who have taken time beyond the scope of their work just to make sure that this program moves smoothly.”

He gave a special shout out to infection preventionist Jessica Huddleston for her work in running the clinic, calling her the mastermind in setting it up. Huddleston has a passion for vaccination stemming from her work with Doctors Without Borders. She has seen firsthand how vaccines save lives.

Karcz echoed others’ comments about seeing the vaccine as a light at the end of a very long tunnel, but he cautioned that the shot is just one tool to mitigate the spread of the disease. Wearing a mask, hand-washing and social distancing are still going to be important until vast numbers of the public have been vaccinated.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart to be effective, so everyone vaccinated today will return next month for a follow-up shot.

As of Thursday, 311,000 Americans had died from COVID. The staggering death toll is never far from the minds of healthcare workers.

“It’s been hard for everyone,” said Dr. Cory Showalter, medical director of the Riley emergency department. “All the people who have been working to take care of all these patients for the last nine months. We’re looking out for each other and taking care of each other so we can be there for all the patients who need us.”

Riley physical therapist Sarah Johnson said she was feeling stronger already after getting her shot in the arm Friday.

“This is such a great day,” she said. “All year, I’ve seen people working hard in this hospital and around our system, and this day means there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. IU Health did such a great job getting (the vaccine) to Riley quickly.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,