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'Vial of hope': St. Luke's in Duluth administers first COVID-19 vaccines

Dr. Sara Lund became one of the first pregnant women in the Northland to receive the vaccine.

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St. Luke's intensive care registered nurse Samantha Moder, of Brookston, receives the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Friday at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth. Infectious disease nurse practitioner Sherry Johnson, of Duluth, administered the vaccine. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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Samantha Moder, an intensive care registered nurse, on Friday became St. Luke's first front-line worker to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

"This is a little vial of hope," Moder said, pointing to the Pfizer vaccine. "We're all excited. The majority of us cannot wait."

A small team of St. Luke's staff in Duluth celebrated its first step in a long journey toward herd immunity from COVID-19. About two dozen St. Luke's employees were slated to receive the vaccine Friday, prior to a larger roll-out scheduled to begin Monday. The health system plans to vaccinate about 200 employees per day.

In another milestone moment, Dr. Sara Lund, a St. Luke's infectious disease specialist, became one of the first pregnant women to receive the vaccine with the hope of leading the way for others in her position.

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Infectious disease nurse practitioner Sherry Johnson (right) of Duluth gives infectious disease physician Sara Lund a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Friday at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. Dr. Lund is pregnant and believes she is the firs pregnant woman in the Northland receiving the vaccine. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have not yet recommended pregnant women receive the COVID-19 vaccine, many medical associations have reported its safe for them to do so.

"With those recommendations from those major societies, I trust them and I feel confident it is safe," Lund said. "No hesitation. I couldn't wait."

The American College of Gynecologists, the Maternal Fetal Medicine Society, and the American College of Immunization Practices have all recommended pregnant women receive the vaccine, especially if they're at risk of contracting the virus.

"Based on its biology of the mRNA vaccine, there is no reason why it should be harmful," Lund said.

Sherry Johnson, a nurse practitioner who administered the first vaccines at St. Luke's, called the opportunity a "milestone" of her career.

"I have worked in the field of immunization for a lot of my career," Johnson said. "I'm so excited. I can't even put into words how wonderful it is."

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A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The Duluth hospital received its first shipment of Pfizer vaccines Thursday. The shipment included roughly 850 doses and the hospital expects a new load will arrive weekly.

Also on Friday, St. Luke's held a day of remembrance for the patients and colleagues who lost their lives to COVID-19.

"We've lost way too many patients. We've lost loved ones and colleagues," said Dr. Nicholas Van Deelen, chief medical officer and interim co-CEO. "It's been really a tough year. It's especially meaningful to me that in this day of remembrance, we get this incredible gift of hope. We have the opportunity to now take a big step down the path that leads back to what we all remember as normal."

In about a week, St. Luke's expects to receive its first shipment of the recently approved Moderna vaccine, which will go to long-term care residents because it doesn't require ultra-cold storage that the Pfizer vaccine does.

St. Luke's installed a new, large ultra-cold freezer a few weeks ago to store the Pfizer vaccines, which requires a storage temperature of nearly 100 degrees below zero.

St. Luke's is one of three hubs for the vaccine in Northeastern Minnesota. The others are Essentia Health in Duluth and Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing. Essentia received its first shipment Tuesday and started vaccinating Thursday. The Hibbing hospital received its first shipment Thursday.

PREVIOUSLY: First COVID-19 vaccines in Duluth administered at Essentia Health

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