Against a blue backdrop decorated with patriotic stars and a bunting banner with the hashtag #igottheshot, the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered Friday at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home.
A pharmacist readied the injection and rolled up the red T-shirt sleeve of Barbara Dawson-Perry — the first veterans home resident to receive the vaccine — and swabbed a spot on her left arm.
Then, quickly and with little fanfare, it was done.
A small group of employees gathered on the facility’s back lanai cheered. Dawson-Perry, who has lived at Yukio Okutsu for more than seven years, gave a thumbs up.
COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna were given emergency use authorization last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More residents and staff members at the veterans home will receive the Moderna vaccine, which will be administered by CVS.
The inoculations at the facility come months after the Hilo veterans home grappled with a deadly outbreak of the novel coronavirus. A devastating, weeks-long outbreak of COVID-19 began in late August, during which 71 residents and 35 employees ultimately tested positive for the virus and 27 residents died.
After her vaccination was complete, Dawson-Perry said she was initially hesitant to get the vaccine but learned more about it.
“Like anybody else, I didn’t know enough about it,” she said. “But my daughters thought I was crazy, so I said, ‘Yes, I will do it.’ I’m happy I did.”
Dawson-Perry, who didn’t experience any adverse effects in the minutes following her shot, said she was asked to be the facility’s first vaccination.
“… I thought … if it wasn’t good for us, they wouldn’t want us to have it,” she said. “They wouldn’t want us to take something that was going to hurt us, I’m sure of that.”
Dawson-Perry said, too, that she was glad the vaccine was available so quickly.
“But see, that’s why I was so hesitant, because it was so fast,” she explained. “For me, it wasn’t tested enough, but after thinking about it, really thinking about it, you know, it’s got to be good. It really has got to be good for us. And I feel like it’s not going to hurt us.”
Immediately after Dawson-Perry received her first dose of the vaccine, nurse Grethen Gamet was the first veterans home employee to be inoculated.
Gamet said she volunteered to receive the first vaccination to be a role model to her colleagues.
“It will reduce my risk of getting COVID, so I can continue to take care of others and protect my family, as well.”
Gamet, who has worked at the facility for more than five years, said the deadly outbreak last year helped her decide to get the vaccine.
“I didn’t want to go through that again,” she said.
Some people are still scared to get the vaccine because they don’t know the long-term side effects, Gamet said.
“But as a nurse, it is important for us to get vaccinated.”
Dawson-Perry said it was nice to see employees stepping up to get the vaccine and hopes those who opted not to receive the shot will change their minds.
“Just for the people out there, if you have the chance to take the shot, go ahead and take it,” she said. “It’s going to help you and your family, especially mothers with children. Think of your children. … It really is important.”
Administrator Kaui Chartrand said the vaccine rollout is “the first step to our new beginning.”
“We’re absolutely excited,” she said. “We are pleased with the percentage of residents that have agreed to accept and consent to the vaccine. We have staff that are excited for this day. They’ve waited a long time for this coming, and I’m absolutely delighted.”
The veterans home is the latest Big Island long-term care facility to start vaccinating residents and employees against COVID-19.
Life Care Center of Hilo, Hilo Medical Center’s Extended Care Facility and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua began administering the shots this week. Inoculations were scheduled to begin today at Legacy Hilo Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center.
Hilo Medical Center on Friday also began administering the second and final doses of its vaccines to those who had previously received a first dose.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses several weeks apart.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.