Just a few days before Christmas, 975 coronavirus vaccines landed on the tarmac in Nome. Onlookers greeted the package with cheers and applause.
Arriving on the heels of a major outbreak that closed schools in Nome, the vaccine brings great hope. Some residents said it made them think of the dogs and mushers that brought diphteria medication to the community nearly a century ago, in 1924.
Vaccinations began later that same evening. Elderly residents and staff at Nome’s Quyanna Care Center were the first to receive the vaccine, along with hospital employees.
“Are you excited to get the new vaccine?” “Oh, yeah. I guess I am… in my own way.”
That’s nurse Marla Mayberry and elder Phillip Dexter, age 96, from Golovin. Dexter sits with his feet up in a green armchair. He is the first elder in Nome to get the vaccine.
Seven minutes later, Dexter’s spirits are high, with no signs of pain or discomfort, as he regales the nurses with tales of his work as a goldminer in decades past.
Mayberry said the nursing staff came up with a simple and creative solution for gathering and monitoring elders as they receive the vaccine: playing bingo.
“We’re actually going to have a big bingo party up here in the front with everyone and we can watch everybody at one time after they’ve had the injection,” she told listeners.
The hospital’s CEO, Angie Gorn, says they were able to offer the vaccine to elders ahead of the original schedule, thanks to an extra shipment from the Indian Health Service. After only expecting 300 initial doses of the vaccine, an additional 600 arrived.
The vaccine, made by Pfizer, is deemed too delicate for transportation to village clinics. Hospital officials say they hope to distribute the Moderna vaccine to smaller communities in the region as soon as it arrives.
On the same day the vaccines arrived, daily prayers recorded by Nome’s Fr. Kumar began going out over the airwaves, asking for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
Image at top: Airline staff and onlookers take pictures as the Captain and First Officer offload a box of coronavirus vaccines touch down in Nome. After landing on the afternoon jet, the vaccine vials were swiftly transported to the hospital’s ultracold freezer.