After nearly a year of isolation, 100-year-old Mary Margaret Evans was the first in line Monday morning to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
“That was it?” she asked with wide eyes, to which onlookers chuckled in response.
“Yep, that was it,” replied nurse Vickie Stephens as she placed a bandage over the injection site. “You’re all vaccinated.”
For nearly four weeks, during phase 1A, vaccines were limited solely to healthcare and frontline workers.
However, last week the Indiana State Department of Health announced plans to transition to phase 1B of the vaccine rollout.
This second phase allows for vaccinations of some of the highest risk community members — specifically those who live in group or longterm care homes as well as those aged 80 and over.
Betty Lankford, the county’s COVID-19 speciality nurse and vaccine site coordinator, says when Mary Evans called the Knox County Health Department last week to inquire about vaccine eligibility and registration, it was an emotional moment.
“The nurse who took (Mary’s) phone call was in tears by the end of the conversation,” said Lankford, describing how Vickie Stephens was affected by the call.
“She was just so touched and excited about the vaccine that she started to cry, so we decided she needed to be our first patient,” Lankford added.
Stephens, who has been a nurse for 35 years, says her brief conversation with Evans formed a bond.
“You know sometimes you just make a connection with people, and she just warmed my heart,” Stephens said, joyous tears forming in her eyes as Evans — assisted by her walker — made her way toward the vaccination chair.
Evans said she couldn’t wait to get the first dose of the vaccine.
“I have stayed at home all the time since March, so I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot,” she said. “My children have all been so good at helping me with everything, and I get a lot of phone calls which helps, but I’ve still been anxious to get this shot.”
Evans, like so many others, has spent most of the last year missing church services, family birthday parties and holidays, and she’s ready to make up for lost time.
“I had plans to visit my children at Christmas but decided it wasn’t the right thing to do, but on Christmas Eve they stood outside and sang ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas.’
“So I was taken care of, but it’s still very lonesome,” Evans said.
By the close of business Monday, the new vaccine site, located inside the community building adjacent to Community United Methodist Church, 1548 Hart Street Road, vaccinated roughly one hundred mostly-elderly community members.
Lankford says as the registration process improves in the coming days, she and her team of nurses should be able to vaccinate up to four individuals every ten minutes.
Seeing a hundred or more patients per day was the driving factor in using the church’s community center as the first public vaccination site, Lankford said.
“We at first planned to do this at the health department, but quickly figured out that we didn’t have the space for that many people to flow through the building,” she explained. “After some brainstorming, we realized the Methodist community center had what we needed.”
With its spacious interior, entry and exit doors opposite each other and ample parking, health officials found the location practically perfect for the need.
Lankford, who was hired to coordinate the vaccination site, says this job is unlike anything she’s done before, and it will likely be months before she has time to process just how significant this moment in time is.
Starting as a medical assistant in 1975 and later working as a bedside nurse, Lankford explains those roles in the medical field came with a clearer set of directions and expectations. Being named the county’s COVID nurse specialist, however, did not.
“There is no real job description for something like this,” she said. “None. But whatever job needs to be done, I try to do it.”
Those currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are encouraged to pre-register online at ourshot.in.gov. For more information about the vaccine or to volunteer at the vaccine clinic, call the Knox County Health Dept. at 812-882-8080.