Some of the first vaccinators share their stories: ‘This is history. I just made history’

MADISON, Wis. – The first health care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine are part of history, but so are those giving them.

In the first week of vaccine administration, UW Health expects to vaccinate more than 1,000 frontline employees, with operations ramping up in the coming weeks. An SSM Health spokesperson said between Tuesday and the end of Friday, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison will have vaccinated an approximate 1,500 employees.

“I think this is a life-changing event for so many of us,” said Megan LeClair-Netzel, an employee health services manager at UW Health.

It’s the season for giving, and no one knows that better than health care workers this year.

“That’s what we do in health care, we serve,” Leclair-Netzel said. “I think it’s mixed emotions they’re experiencing of working so hard for so long to care for our patients, the personal sacrifices they have done to care for our patients, and it feels like this moment in time where all of that comes together and we feel hopeful.”

“I have chills going up my body just talking about this,” said Amanda Lewis, an employee health nurse at St. Mary’s. “It’s history in the making. We’ve been talking about the vaccine for a long time.”

The long-awaited vaccine comes packed with one ingredient that can’t be overlooked: hope.

“It’s been tears, tears of joy, tears of happiness, excitement,” Lewis said of those receiving the vaccine.

It’s a side effect not only for those getting the vaccine, but those giving it. Lewis and LeClair-Netzel were the first at their respective hospitals to administer the vaccine.

“I remember walking down the hall with the vaccine all pumped, ‘OK I can do this, I can do this.’ We opened the doors and there were all these people standing there waiting to watch the historical moment, and I remember going, ‘Oh my goodness, I am very nervous’,” Lewis said. “At the end when I finished, I remember being in awe. This is history. I just made history.”

She knows it will be a moment that sticks with her.

“I have little kids very excited I did this, so yeah, I think it’ll be really exciting,” Lewis said. “I think it will be something that I’ll remember for years and years to come.”

“It felt like one of the most meaningful moments in my career,” LeClair-Netzel said. “This week has been an incredible whirlwind.”

It was a whirlwind following a turbulent year, which started for LeClair-Netzel’s department with losing its medical director, Dr. Beth Potter, who was murdered along with her husband in March.

“I think of how proud Beth would be in this moment of us giving this vaccine,” LeClair-Netzel said.

Both LeClair-Netzel and Lewis have yet to receive the vaccine themselves, but say distributing it is gift enough.

“This is another way we’re able to serve,” LeClair Netzel said. “I couldn’t be more grateful to be in this position.”

Both women stress that while the vaccines represent the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re still in the tunnel, and health precautions are just as important as ever.

According to a UnityPoint Health Meriter spokesperson, they expect vaccine shipments next week.