NORFOLK, Neb – It wasn’t just another Monday on the Norfolk campus of Northeast Community College. As they prepared to end the workday, approximately 225 college employees rolled up their sleeves to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines, joining millions of Americans who have done something similar over the past several weeks.
Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department coordinated a clinic which administered the one dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Janssen vaccine to faculty and staff after the College was notified last week that it is now available. This was the first time this particular vaccine was administered in the district.
Stefanie Mundil, health and wellness education instructor, was thrilled to get the vaccine. She said she and her immediate co-workers signed up for the earliest appointments available to get the inoculations as soon as they could.
“It feels awesome! I am excited to get this, not only for myself and my family, but for our students on campus. I’m ready to get back with our students in person and I think they’re excited as well,” Mundil said. “This is one step to enable us to do that and we’re thankful and grateful to Northeast and the health department for hosting this.”
Employees registered for appointments that were available during the two-and-a-half-hour clinic in the Cox Activities Center gymnasium. A survey taken earlier indicated that approximately 93% of Northeast faculty and staff members said they would be interested or consider receiving the vaccine, which is not required at the College.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is really a game changer,” said Brian Paulsen, director of Safety and Emergency Preparedness at Northeast. “It’s one dose and you’re moving forward. We are fortunate to get this opportunity right out of the gate.”
The J&J vaccine received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27. It’s one dose differs from the other two vaccines that are available from Pfizer and Moderna, each of which include a two-dose regimen.
Paulsen said he’s happy that Northeast employees are taking advantage of the availability regardless of where it is offered.
“Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health knew the number would be slightly less during the clinic since employees have had opportunities to take advantage of other vaccine clinics that have been held across the district. This is likely to continue to occur because people are eligible at different times and they are taking advantage of that.”
Northeast also operates extended campuses in O’Neill, South Sioux City and West Point and all employees at those locations were eligible to come to Norfolk to receive the vaccine or attend a local clinic. Paulsen said six employees in South Sioux City received the vaccine last week through the Dakota County Public Health Department. The department will continue to work with others to ensure they receive the vaccine in the near future. Employees at the O’Neill campus will be inoculated within the week and since the West Point campus falls within the ELVPHD district, employees there were eligible to attend the Monday clinic or attend a clinic in the West Point area.
“I can confirm that by this Friday, March 12, that every one of our campuses will have had the opportunity to start the vaccination process,” Paulsen said.
Melanie Thompson, ELVPHD emergency response coordinator, said she and her team also administered the vaccine to childcare workers at the College on Monday. She said it is an exciting time to be in public health.
“It’s way better to be in public health now administering these vaccines and getting in front of the virus,” Thompson said. “Up until now, we would always react to it. We’d have to call people and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry your positive, or Oh, I’m sorry you were exposed to somebody.’ With these vaccines, it gives us hope.”
“We were so pleased to get the news from the health department that the vaccine would be made available to our employees. People are so ready to get back to a sense of normalcy and this is one tool in our toolbox to be able to do so,” said Leah Barrett, Northeast president. “The pandemic is still forcing us to be cautious with a college-wide face mask mandate in place and social distancing where required, but the vaccine allows us to take another step closer to getting back into a regular routine in the months ahead.”
Paulsen said the College is thankful for the opportunity to get its employees vaccinated. He said they are to be commended for their efforts and adhering to the protocols that have been put into place.
“And now I’m hoping that any Northeast employee who wants the vaccine will receive it or have the opportunity to receive it by the end of next week. It’s really going to change way we look at things and we how operate moving forward from here.”