Sherian Kwanisai stepped into Arkansas history this week as the first person in the state to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and today I’d like to talk about the significance of this in our nine-month battle against the coronavirus.
Sherian is a 27-year employee of the Arkansas Department of Health. She is director of nursing for the Center for Local Public Health and works with approximately 400 public health nurses spread throughout all 75 counties. She has been in the trenches since COVID-19 arrived in March. She coordinates testing, and she has swabbed a fair number of patients herself.
The immunization program is rapidly gaining momentum. The FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use last weekend. That is the medicine that arrived in Little Rock on Monday. Now, an FDA advisory council has endorsed a second vaccine, which is made by Moderna. When the FDA authorizes it, we will quickly increase the number of people we can vaccinate, and we expect to have the first Moderna shipments on Tuesday.
Arkansas received about 25,000 doses in its first shipment, and after four days of vaccinations, more than 4,000 Arkansas health care workers received a shot this week in the initial phase.
Pfizer shipped the initial doses to 18 larger hospitals, the Department of Health, and several pharmacies. The larger hospitals vaccinated staff members who are at the highest risk of exposure. Pharmacies vaccinated staff at smaller hospitals that didn’t receive direct shipments. The Department of Health vaccinated staff, such as Sherian, who are at a high risk of exposure.
Sherian believes the vaccine is our light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. She was elated to be the first Arkansan to take the shot. She wanted to lead by example, especially for other African Americans, who historically have been skeptical about new or experimental medicine. Sherian volunteered to take the first shot.
When Sherian was young, she wanted to be an architect, but her grandmother persuaded her to become a nurse. She studied the prerequisite classes at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and graduated from nursing school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. When she was considering a change in her career, a friend suggested public health. The only thing Sherian knew about the field was that public-health nurses gave a lot of shots. Nearly 30 years later, Sherian is one of the most experienced public-health nurses in Arkansas, and she has given out a lot of shots. In the first week of COVID-19 vaccinations, Sherian has immunized about fifteen patients. We are well on our way to vaccinating thousands of Arkansans, which is the only way we are ever going to beat this virus.
The shot didn’t hurt, and the only aftereffect was a little soreness in her arm. We are fortunate to have state employees such as Sherian on the front lines whose mission in life is to care for people. She has inspired us this week by stepping to the front of the line for a COVID shot and showing us it’s really not so bad. I join Sherian in encouraging everyone to get the vaccination when it comes your turn.