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‘It’s how the pandemic will end’: Carroll Hospital health care workers first to get COVID-19 vaccine

Mackenzie Hruby, clinical pharmacist specialist, administers the first COVID-19 vaccine at Carroll Hospital to Mark Olszyk, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Carroll Hospital on December 18, 2020.
Mackenzie Hruby, clinical pharmacist specialist, administers the first COVID-19 vaccine at Carroll Hospital to Mark Olszyk, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Carroll Hospital on December 18, 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Mark Olszyk said he had no problem being ready Friday at 7 a.m. while others from his medical staff at Carroll Hospital looked on.

The time was significant for the hospital and Carroll County ― Olszyk, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs, received a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer doses were shipped Thursday and the hospital held a clinic Friday morning for employees that pre-registered.

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“I was happy to get in there on the first day, and I picked 7 a.m. because I wanted to just be an example to the medical staff,” Olszyk said. “I personally think it’s a safe vaccine.”

Hospitals and health-care facilities in neighboring counties are holding similar clinics to deliver vaccines to their employees, and Carroll had a connection to one earlier in the week when Mount Airy resident Dr. Michael Winters become one of the first Marylanders to receive a dose. But Carroll Hospital became the first in-county site to be administering vaccines.

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And with the number of positive cases continuing to pile up in Carroll, many local health care workers looked forward to Friday as the first step toward eradicating the coronavirus.

“I was actually so thrilled to be able to get the vaccine, and to be able to tell people that everybody should talk to their doctor and listen to their doctors when they tell you to get it,” said Donna Wach, a certified occupational therapy assistant who has worked at Carroll Hospital for more than 15 years. “We need to be an example for health care. Health care workers need to be an example for everyone. I’m thrilled that so many public figures have chosen to take it and advertise it.

“I wanted people to know that this is here, it’s tested, it’s how the pandemic will end.”

Rachel Uzmed, certified pharmacy technician, prepares the first batch of COVID vaccines at Carroll Hospital on December 18, 2020
Rachel Uzmed, certified pharmacy technician, prepares the first batch of COVID vaccines at Carroll Hospital on December 18, 2020 (Courtesy photo)

Carroll County Health Department data from Friday showed 33 patients being labeled as positive for COVID-19, and 12 more persons under investigation for having the virus. Ten ICU beds were in use according to the current data during a month in which the hospital has acknowledged a high volume of patients.

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Statistics such as those, along with the hundreds of cases being tabulated each week, have health care workers eager to be the first to take the vaccine.

Olszyk, who has been Carroll Hospital’s chief medical officer for more than seven years, said he and his colleagues were waiting for a day like Friday for months. When news of the coronavirus first came to light about a year ago, Olszyk said, they wondered if it would become as severe an area as New York or some of the European countries that were affected. They followed the ebb and flow of the virus, from its spikes in March and April to its flattened curve in the summertime to now, when colder weather brought more people indoors and led to another spike.

Olszyk said Carroll waited in earnest for the vaccine ― last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized doses from Pfizer, and is expected to soon do the same with Moderna ― while paying attention to its development and keeping tabs on the science behind the drugs.

“From our little corner of the world,” Olszyk said, “we’ve been cheering them on.”

There has been a strong response to the initial inquiry asking employees to register, according to a news release from Carroll Hospital and LifeBridge Health. Within seven minutes of the registration announcement, approximately 100 employees had registered for the vaccine. Within one hour, that number jumped to 500. As of Dec. 16, close to 4,000 of LifeBridge Health’s 13,000 employees had registered to get the vaccine, according to the release.

One of them was Wach, who lives in Baltimore and said she met with her doctor a few months ago to see if some of her underlying health issues might keep her from being eligible for the vaccine. Wach said when her doctor said the shot should be set for everybody, it validated her instincts as a health care worker.

Wach is on a three-week countdown until her next dose, she said. After that, she’ll be using a 30-day stretch to be considered as having a maximum immunity level. At that point, Wach said she has a special trip scheduled.

“That’s the day I plan to go hug my grandson in New York,” she said.

Infectious disease was the leading killer of people for generations, Olszyk said, until the 1930s when better conditions and advancement in medicine lowered the numbers for such maladies as small pox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. Last month, Olszyk said, COVID-19 became the No. 1 killer of Americans.

That’s why he and his colleagues felt the significance of Friday.

“The vaccine is going to be the thing that’s really going to put an end to this,” Olszyk said. “We’re extremely excited it’s finally here.”

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