FRANKLIN, Wis. - Ascension Wisconsin began COVID-19 vaccinations on a handful of frontline employees Wednesday, Dec. 16.
The feeling among those who received the vaccine is one of mixed emotions. Workers have treated COVID-19 patients at Ascension's Franklin hospital for almost nine months to the day.
There is excitement that the vaccine will help turn the tide, but doctors and respiratory therapists know that the fight against COVID-19 is still far from over.
Inside a conference room, Dr. Joseph Weber was first in line to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. While battling the virus in the hospital's intensive care unit, he admits that he didn't think he'd be in this spot so soon.
"There was a time when this first started, when we didn't know what we were doing, I actually moved out of the house for a while. And that was rough," Weber said. "For the first time in nine months, there's actually a light at the end of the tunnel."
Ascension Wisconsin Dr. Joseph Weber receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot
After some preparation to dilute the vaccine, transfer it to a syringe and a quick cleaning swab, Weber received his first shot -- putting a big bow on his holiday season.
"Giannis signed the supermax. I got my vaccine. My Christmas list is done," said Weber.
Right now, it's more than an ample Christmas gift for health care workers -- like Respiratory Therapist Mark Gustafson -- who have been fighting the virus head-on since March both in the hospital and at home.
Ascension Wisconsin Respiratory Therapist Mark Gustafson
"I think if you talked to nearly any health care worker right now, they're gonna say that their anxiety levels have just been like they've never felt before," Gustafson said.
First, it's protection from severe disease for those caring for the sick. And finally, a feasible sign that the pandemic could eventually end.
"I love my job. You know, I do this because I love my patients. I want to take care of my patients. And if I'm sick, I can't do that," said Gustafson.
Ascension will begin more widespread vaccination of employees on Thursday, Dec. 17.
Officials are quick to point out that it will still be months before enough people are vaccinated for society to let its guard down -- stressing the ongoing need for social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing.