Buncombe County administered its first COVID-19 vaccines Monday under Phase 1B, where anyone over the age of 75 is eligible to receive one. Prior to this, healthcare workers, first responders, and congregate living facility residents received the vaccine.
Maegan Thomas works with heart patients.
“They cannot be having COVID that will just make their situation 10 times worse,” Thomas said.
Thomas is a nurse at Mission Hospital in Asheville. She got the Pfizer vaccine just before the new year because she wanted to protect others.
“My patients, they may have it. I know my patients have tested positive after they left me. So you know, we're all vulnerable to get it but just to stop the spread of it, I think was just the encouragement for me,” Thomas said.
Thomas received an email to schedule an appointment, but the email was sent to the entire hospital. She struggled to find an open slot.
“At first, the scheduling system wasn't working, there was a problem, and so people were just walking down there in huge groups to get the vaccine,” Thomas said.
Once the system was fixed, appointments filled quickly.
Thomas found a slot to squeeze in, completed her paperwork online and made her way down to the old emergency department at Mission. She was told the whole process would take about 30 minutes, but when she got there, the line was huge.
Everybody stood next to sticky notes on the walls, each six feet apart. Thomas waited next to hers, both nervous and excited.
“I definitely had butterflies the whole time I was standing in line and I'm not even sure why I was nervous because I stand in line to get a vaccine for the flu every year,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ mother and sister – also nurses at Mission – were vaccinated before her.
Each vaccine station was divided by a small partition.
“It was just like random nurses and random staff that we're giving vaccines. Like, the lady that gave me my vaccine. She was like ‘Oh I work with your mom in the NICU,’” Thomas said.
To Thomas, it felt like any other shot.
“I mean, it hurt honestly, like any other vaccine. You’ve got a needle in your arm,” Thomas said.
After she had been vaccinated, Thomas received a small card and was told to wait for 15 minutes, just in case she experienced any side effects.
She didn’t experience any side effects, other than some teasing from her father and his friend.
“They were like, ‘Are you going to grow horns? Like, you're going to grow a tail? Like, what's going to happen to you?’” Thomas said. “And I was like, ‘You guys need to calm down. I'm not going to grow horns, I'm not going to grow a tail, I'm going to be perfectly fine.’”
Dr. Andrew McKenzie didn’t hesitate when he was offered the vaccine.
“Oh yeah, I didn’t have any hesitation whatsoever. I think that it’s good science that’s been done,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie is a dentist with a practice in Hendersonville. McKenzie chose to get the vaccine because he felt it was important in order to keep his business up and running.
Since he does outpatient work for Pardee and Mission, McKenzie was eligible to get the vaccine through both. All he had to do was register with the health department and schedule an appointment.
McKenzie ran into similar problems with Mission’s scheduling website, so he called Pardee.
“And when they said, ‘Oh, we had an opening today, do you want to come? Can you come in 30 minutes?’ I'm like, ‘Totally. I’ll be there in 25 minutes,’” McKenzie said.
He was in and out within 30 minutes. Now, he’s figuring out how to get his staff vaccinated.
McKenzie acknowledges being vaccinated gives him a little extra safety when interacting with patients, but he’s not taking any chances.
“Even though we’re vaccinated, I could still be a carrier. I can’t just walk around without a mask now,” McKenzie said.
Sandra Mueller got the Moderna vaccine and won’t be caught without her mask anytime soon either.
“Mother nature can be pretty tricky. So when people are saying, oh, you're free to go out, I think, no, no, I'm not free,” Mueller said.
Mueller is 78, and she resides in a senior living community in Arden. She chats with friends in other states often, and she says the varying guidance can be very confusing.
“Kind of leaves you feeling like you're walking on marbles,” Mueller said.
Mueller is optimistic that this is a step in the right direction, and she’s looking forward to when her younger friends outside living facilities can get vaccinated.
Mission Health nurse Maegan Thomas feels a similar sensation.
“But I just felt like such a sensation of hope that this is the first step. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to get the vaccine,that they're giving the health care workers that protection the unit they need to get through this pandemic,” Thomas said.
Thomas will receive her second dose next week.