Genesis receives, administers first COVID-19 vaccines as pandemic worsens


Genesis HealthCare System Pharmacy Research Nurse, Terri Campbell (left) administers the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Genesis Infectious Diseases Specialist, Dr. Jignesh Modi (right).

By Staff Report

Genesis HealthCare System received statewide attention and marked a historical moment in Zanesville’s history as it’s hospital received, and began administering, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to front line high-risk healthcare workers, many of whom have been directly caring for COVID-19 positive patients.

Genesis Hospital, which serves patients from multiple area counties, was able to provide its administers, doctors, nurses and support staff with priority early status to the vaccine due in part to a decades-old study that required ultra-cold storage capacity, a current requirement needed to store the vaccine that places Genesis among its larger peers at statewide regional metropolitan healthcare facilities.

The two-part vaccine will help protect the most directly exposed healthcare workers as they endeavor to combat a surging number of Coronavirus cases that have begun to overwhelm hospitals across the country and ensure that those seeking non-COVID emergency medical care have access to the same high-quality local emergency room services they had grown accustomed to before the pandemic fundamentally changed the lives of every Ohioan.

Announced a week prior on Monday, December 7, Genesis HealthCare System was notified by the Ohio Department of Health that they had been one of only ten sites selected across the entire state to receive a shipment of Pfizer’s recently approved COVID-19 vaccine due in part to its geography, population and access to ultra-cold storage capacity.

In a live video press announcement on Monday, December 14 by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, it was announced that two Ohio hospitals, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, had received their shipment crate of 975 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the United Parcel Service (UPS) under armed police escort to administer the first of many planned vaccinations at some of the state’s hardest-hit hospitals.

During that announcement, DeWine reported that the eight remaining selected hospitals would receive their shipments sometime Tuesday, as the state and the country await federal approval of a second Cororavirus vaccine by a company called Moderna, while also awaiting more high quantity shipments of both in the coming weeks and months.

Officials were unsure of an exact time the shipments would arrive Tuesday, but estimates placed its delivery in the late morning.

At only an hour behind schedule, an ordinary UPS truck carrying other regular packages arrived at Genesis Hospital’s loading dock to a team of prepared and anxious staff.

A Genesis Police Officer, Boone Birkhimer, a 6-year veteran of the hospital’s law enforcement department, was the first employee to successfully receive the package from the unnamed UPS driver and load the life-saving vaccine onto a cart for transport to the hospital’s pharmacy.

Genesis Police Officer Boone Birkhimer becomes the first employee to touch the UPS package containing 975 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The package, which UPS wouldn’t even confirm existed due to security concerns, contained a GPS tracker and other instruments to ensure both safe and optimal delivery of the vaccines.

When the cart containing the package of vaccines reached its pre-determined destination inside the hospital, Laura Kelso, Director of Pharmacy at Genesis, was the authorized individual who was tasked with opening the package and preparing it for its required two-hour thaw.

Genesis Director of Pharmacy, Laura Kelso, is the first to open the box containing the shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine, to begin the two-hour thaw process required to bring it up to temperatures at which it can be administered.

During that process, Kelso along with other staff and law enforcement personnel stood watch, guarding and monitoring the valuable vaccine which will create an immunity to the virus for those who ultimately receive it.

Genesis Director of Pharmacy, Laura Kelso, prepares the Pfizer vaccination while one of many Genesis Police Officers stands guard ensuring the security of the life-saving vaccine.

The remaining doses, which will be administered later in the week, were then loaded into the hospital’s ultra-cold freezer.

This particular vaccine requires doses to be stored at temperatures between negative 112 and negative 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile, nurses and other Genesis personnel prepared the vaccination room in the hospital for the soon influx of employees who had been pre-selected and voluntarily agreed to take the vaccine.

The consent form station was the first stop employees would arrive at before ultimately receiving the vaccination.

Part of that process was preparing paperwork to ensure those who would receive Tuesday’s vaccine would also receive a second dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the next two to three weeks as recommended by the manufacturer and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure total immunity for recipients.

Vials of the thawed Pfizer vaccine, ready to be administered to front line healthcare workers early Tuesday afternoon.

The first person Tuesday to receive a vaccine was Dr. Jignesh Modi, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Genesis, the individual who has had the most experience and exposure locally to COVID positive patients.

The doctor lightly smiled as he entered the vaccination room, but with a facial expression that contained the pain and suffering he had witnessed over the past year, while also expressing his aptitude for optimism in the future and what the vaccine will help to eradicate.

A local nurse, Terri Campbell, was one of multiple nurses Tuesday who helped administer the vaccine.

By happenstance, Campbell, a 42-year veteran nurse, was the one to administer Modi’s vaccination.

A lifelong resident of the region, who resides in Morgan County, Campbell half-jokingly half-seriously spoke about the “millions of shots” she has given over her career and shook her head side-to-side when asked by the press pool if she was nervous or anxious in being the first one in the district to administer the vaccine.

“It’s very exciting to have the vaccines this quickly,” said Campbell. “And it’s exciting to be able to be part of helping people so that hopefully they don’t get this horrible virus.”

Genesis HealthCare System Pharmacy Research Nurse, Terri Campbell (left) and Genesis Infectious Diseases Specialist, Dr. Jignesh Modi (right) turn to face the press after Campbell successfully administers the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Modi.

Like everyone interviewed Tuesday, Campbell doesn’t consider herself a hero.

Campbell works in the Genesis Pharmacy Research Division and while she typically doesn’t interact with patients, Tuesday she would administer nearly a dozen shots to front-line healthcare workers.

During an interview with multiple reporters, as she administered the vaccine, she said that she believes the real heroes are the nurses working on the floor or in the emergency room with the COVID-positive patients.

“I’m just glad I can help,” Campbell said humbly. “I hope I can help more, I hope I can do more.”

After the vaccine is administered, everyone is required to undergo 15 minutes of post-vaccination observation to ensure no one has any yet-to-be-discovered adverse reactions with the Pfizer vaccine that were not discovered during clinical trials.

At a press conference following the first administered vaccine, both Matthew Perry, President and CEO, and Dr. Scott Wegner, Chief Clinical Officer, of Genesis HealthCare System spoke about the unique and historic event which would continue to occur for multiple hours Tuesday and into the rest of the week.

“Today is a very exciting day for us,” said Perry who went on to elaborate how pleased he was that Genesis had been lucky enough to receive some of the first doses, which he hopes will also help improve public sentiment around receiving a vaccine as it becomes more publically available in the coming weeks.

As is the case with any vaccination program, especially in one as important as this one, Perry spoke of the positive perception that is brought on as the average person watches their local, experienced and knowledgeable healthcare professionals choose to be first to voluntarily receive a vaccine.

The vaccines will also help safeguard those who receive the most exposure, often daily, to the virus, Wegner added.

To date, Genesis has not had one single case of COVID-19 attributed to infectious spread at their facilities, a testament that both individuals cite to the benefits that personal protective equipment (PPE) grant front-line medical personnel, as well as the general public.

“What does that say, it says that protective measures work,” said Wegner, who wanted to remind the public to continue wearing their masks, washing their hands and to watch out for not only theirs but other community members’ health by practicing being health conscious.

Genesis HealthCare System Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Scott Wegner, speaks at Tuesday’s press conference about the need to continue practicing protective health measures.

Both administrators echoed the sentiment of many individuals Tuesday by highlighting the work of others, not themselves, in creating a framework of teamwork and dedication to the patient in such dangerous and uncertain times.

“I really can not even begin to describe the awesome dedicated service that our physicians and our nurses and our respiratory therapist, the entire team at Genesis have brought to bear to care for our community,” said Perry. “We still have to care for all of our other illnesses that patients have and to be able to layer on this level of additional patients that are very complex has just been a herculean effort. I’m very proud of all the people who work at Genesis, they have done an amazing job.”

Upon hearing Perry’s comments, Wegner joined in by saying that it would be hard to find a facility that even comes close to the staff at Genesis.

“You will not ever find a place where people are more focused on the core mission that we do, which is to serve the people in our community,” said Wegner. “People just step up, if somebody’s not available, somebody else steps up, everybody is solution-focused, everybody wants to care.”

Both said they hope the vaccine will give employees a shield of protection as they work and care for the community.

Some employees, as Wegner described, have been working maximum hours to care for a large influx of patients, who are COVID positive and experiencing complications.

As a vaccine becomes more publicly available, especially at a time when cases continue to exponentially increase, along with deaths, every professional Tuesday said they hope it gives the healthcare system the fighting chance it needs to combat and eventually eliminate the virus.

One of over the thirty front-line Genesis HealthCare System employees who received a vaccine Tuesday.

Leading the coordinated effort of vaccinations at the hospital is Laura Kelso, who while also being the Director of Pharmacy for Genesis, servers as vaccine coordinator for the administering of all Coronavirus vaccines.

A more than 15-year employee at Genesis HealthCare System, Kelso started as a regular staff pharmacist and later became operations manager before being promoted to Pharmacy Director a little more than a year ago.

When she accepted that position, as the Novel Coronavirus was just beginning to appear in Wuhan, China, little did she know what an important and mountness task she would later help direct.

Kelso credits Genesis being selected as one of the ten sites across Ohio due to a research study that the hospital participated in many years ago that required an ultra-cold freezer to be located on the premises.

Once they received word however that they had been selected, the hospital system received a new state-of-the-art ultra-cold freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine, to ensure it and future delivers would be safely protected.

Additional alternative vaccines, which are forthcoming, some pending approval, won’t require to be store in such an ultra-cold environment, but the freezer will continue to benefit the hospital for many years to come long after the Coronavirus has been hopefully eradicated.

Kelso says it’s a lot of responsibility overseeing such an important vaccination, but that she credits her team, many of who helped administer the vaccine, with being so phenomenal and dedicated to their task and the purpose at hand.

Genesis HealthCare System Director of Pharmacy, Laura Kelso, was featured placing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine inside the ultra-cold freezer Tuesday, as broadcast on the Ohio Channel during Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s unplanned press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Even after all the press had left and vaccinations were done for the day, Genesis personnel continued to be recognized Tuesday.

During an unplanned and unexpected press conference Tuesday afternoon by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Genesis employee who Y-City News had the opportunity to speak with earlier in the day was interviewed by the leader of the state.

Broadcast on the Ohio Channel, which in turn was syndicated to all of Ohio’s television and radio stations, as well as on multiple social media sites, the Governor, along with his Lieutenant Governor, Jon Husted, publically thanked the employee and his numerous coworkers.

The almost two-minute interview of Ryan Smith, who is a nurse in the Critical Care Unit at Genesis Hospital, gave the public and media across the state a glimpse into the daily operations of a healthcare worker in Zanesville at the front lines of the fight for those with the most severe Coronavirus cases.

Genesis Hospital Critical Care Unit Nurse, Ryan Smith, speaks to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine during Tuesday’s press conference.

Smith, reiterated to DeWine what he had told Y-City News earlier in the day, that it was super exciting for him to be the second person Tuesday to receive a vaccine, which as he explained gives personnel another tool to use to combat the pandemic.

By voluntarily taking the virus, Smith said he wanted the public to know it was safe and that it helps establish herd immunity which along with social distancing and protective material, such as masks, will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

DeWine asked Smith to tell everyone at the hospital that they appreciate what all the local medical personnel does for those who have contracted the virus, including giving up holidays and time with their families to protect members of their community and that he hopes all stay safe and healthy as they administer aid.

Genesis Hospital Critical Care Unit Nurse, Ryan Smith, was the second person Tuesday to receive a vaccine.

Smith, who earlier in the day had spoken about the same topic with Y-City News, said he wanted members of the community to know that the virus is real and that it is serious and how appreciative all his co-workers and he is for those who choose to forgo Thanksgiving and other get-togethers to help stop the spread of the virus.

“There was a number of us that were here on Thanksgiving,” said Smith. “We weren’t able to be home with our family members because we were here covering for the massive amount of patients that are in our hospital with COVID-19. So to those people who stay home, we want to say thank you. Hopefully, we all can keep it going through the year-end holidays and hopefully get this virus eradicated and get back to our normal lives.”

Everyone Tuesday repeated the same request, to ask the public to please be safe. To practice social distancing and wearing a mask to ensure that they don’t accidentally unknowingly spread the virus, but so that they don’t also unintentionally contribute to rising hospital numbers and overwhelm the community hospital system beyond what it is already experiencing.