LEWISTON — Moments after becoming one of the first Central Maine Healthcare employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Claudia Geyer told assembled media she was “beyond grateful, thrilled, honored to be getting this now.”

“This is the biggest window of hope we’ve had in a really long time,” said the system chief of hospital medicine.

Sixty hospital system employees got the first dose of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine Wednesday at CMHC’s flagship hospital, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, and hundreds more are slated to get it in the coming days. Some of the newly vaccinated employees were doctors at greatest risk of contracting the virus — like Geyer, who works with CMMC’s COVID-19 patients. Others were support workers also at great risk.

Imad Durra, an infectious disease doctor, was the first CMHC employee to get the shot.

Ron Emond, a 58-year-old environmental services worker who runs CMMC’s linen department, was also among those vaccinated Wednesday. He wanted to make sure he got the shot, in part, to help safeguard his wife, who needs surgery soon.

Although he dislikes needles, Emond said he wasn’t nervous about the new vaccine.

“I trust it,” he said.

CMMC and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center are sharing 975 doses of the vaccine from this first distribution, administering them over several days to employees at high risk or who deal directly with COVID-19 patients. Because the vaccines are highly heat sensitive, Bates College in Lewiston loaned the two Lewiston hospitals ultra-low-temperature freezers to store the doses.

Nurses go over last-minute details Wednesday morning prior to administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The first Maine hospitals began vaccinating employees Tuesday. St. Mary’s, which got 400 doses from CMHC, is expected to start vaccinating its workers Thursday.

CMHC’s group vaccination came as Maine recorded its highest daily case count yet — 551.

After her shot, Geyer told reporters she’s working in CMMC’s COVID-19 unit and her team has been caring for people as young as 20-something who are “shockingly sick.” She said she respects others’ concerns about the vaccine’s safety but the virus is a risk all its own.

“COVID is so real and so devastating,” she said. “Most of our unit is related to people who gathered together (with others) for Thanksgiving. Please remember that. We said that would happen and here it is. And Christmas is around the corner. We’re so afraid that, again, in mid-January our unit will be filled with people who just wanted to be with their family for Christmas. It’s so real. The risk is in front of our faces every day.”

“There’s nothing that we do in medicine that doesn’t have a potential risk,” she added. “But the benefit of this (shot) so far outweighs the risk that I’m thrilled to take it.”

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