Ketchikan’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrived Wednesday. KRBD was there as public health officials received the first few doses of the lifesaving inoculation.
Public health nurse Theresa Ruzek had a bounce in her step. Her face was covered with a cloth mask, but you could see it in her eyes — she was grinning as she signed for the package from Alaska Air Cargo manager Maddison Swafford.
“Other than that, I’m ready to hand it over. I feel kind of like a hero,” said Swafford.
“You are! You got it here in time,” replied Ruzek.
“We all are,” said Swafford.
It was Ketchikan’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine — in all, 20 doses to be split between public health nurses and EMS personnel at two local fire departments, a local emergency operations center spokesperson said.
Ruzek is also a senior member of Ketchikan’s emergency operations center. She’s been helping coordinate Ketchikan’s pandemic response and strategy.
“I’m just very excited about today and the opportunity to start administering a COVID vaccine, because I feel like this is going to be the first step in bringing us back to a little bit more normal existence,” she said.
There were some with apprehensions over the brand-new vaccine. A woman who was also picking up a package said she was skeptical. She said that’s because most vaccines can take years to be approved, while the COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized on an emergency basis in less than a year.
“I don’t know, just the rush of it all,” she said. She declined to give her name, citing her job.
“What would you need to see to make you be more willing to take the vaccine?” I asked.
“Time,” she said after some thought, “and how it works out for other people along the way.”
Later, I asked Ruzek what she thought about those kinds of concerns.
“There’s a lot of unknowns, and this is new, but I would say, ‘Do your research,’” she said.
“Find credible sources. Educate yourself. Ask questions,” she said. “I highly, highly encourage you taking the vaccine. I think it has been shown to be safe and highly effective. But do your research. Ask the questions.”
She loaded the box into a white Chevy and — carefully — drove on to the ferry that connects Ketchikan’s airport with downtown.
Deckhand Kaleb Booth guided Ruzek’s car onto the Ken Eichner 2. He was surprised to learn of the cargo he was carrying.
“Well, I mean that’s news to me that the vaccine is in there, but, no, I think it’s a good start. Because as far as I know, that’s going to the nurses and doctors and any kind of EMS that are out there. So anything that can keep them trucking on, I’m okay with,” he said.
There is a lot unknown as far as what happens next. As Wednesday afternoon, officials expected the first doses to be given out Thursday.
Ruzek said local pharmacies — even one of Ketchikan’s grocery stores — are expecting shipments of their own within the next week or two. Ketchikan’s hospital expects their first shipment around Dec. 21. It’s not clear how many doses will reach Ketchikan in the initial wave of distribution.
The first few shipments are earmarked for doctors, nurses, long-term care patients, fire and EMS staff and people who will give the lifesaving shots. It’s not yet clear when there will be enough to expand the pool of people eligible for the vaccine.