As a veteran registered nurse, Mary Beth Gagne knows that providing an example can play a role in successful medical treatment.

For Gagne, 61, that is one key reason – along with personal safety – that she will be ready to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine when it’s her turn.

“People look to nurses. They need to know I support the vaccine. But it’s not a magic bullet,” said Gagne, who lives in Auburn. She has been a registered nurse for 41 years and is currently a pediatric home health nurse employed by MaineHealth Care at Home.

Mary Beth Gagne of Auburn, who works as a pediatric home health nurse for MaineHealth, says she’s looking forward to getting the vaccine, partly because of the example she’ll be setting for other people. “People look to nurses. They need to know I support the vaccine. But it’s not a magic bullet,” Gagne said Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“People still need to follow through with wearing PPE, social distancing, staying in their bubble,” she said. “We have to do all of it and I think it’s good to model that behavior for the public.”

All of the front-line health care workers interviewed by the Press Herald on Monday said they are ready and willing to take the vaccine once it becomes available to their employers.

The first batches of vaccinations, produced by Pfizer, rolled into Maine on Monday. Maine Medical Center, the flagship hospital in the MaineHealth network, is scheduled to begin administering its initial shipment of 1,885 doses on Tuesday. Gagne said she has been told to expect to be vaccinated “possibly by the end of the month,” and that in-home providers will be vaccinated at the same time as hospital employees working comparable jobs.

The COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer were produced in record time, and were given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Moderna, another vaccine producer, could begin shipping its vaccines as early as next week.

Gagne described herself as a “vaccine supporter for sure,” but admitted the rapid development and production has given her pause.

“I feel concerned because it’s been rushed through but I do feel ready to get it,” Gagne said. “It’s the only way of having any hope of getting this pandemic under control because people do not social distance, they do not wear masks and they don’t follow guidelines.”

She added, “The effectiveness seems very promising. We just have to hope that down the road we don’t have complications. But right now (without a vaccination) the complication is getting (COVID-19) and dying from it.”

As an in-home health care provider, Gagne said she sometimes feels at greater risk of exposure than if she worked in a hospital, where nurses would be “all gowned up,” and the access of patients’ families is restricted.

While working in a patient’s home, Gagne can control the immediate situation, and limit her contact with extended family. She said she also has a good supply of PPE.

“But I could leave the house today and find out they tested positive tomorrow. It’s always just the unknown. We have had some employees who have gotten (COVID-19) so it’s a very scary thing,” Gagne said.

“I definitely want to feel protected,” said Gagne, who has asthma. “I will continue to wear my mask, social distance and not travel across the country, but I do feel that (being vaccinated) will be a big protection. An important protection.”

Dr. Bill Ruth serves as the medical director of InterMed’s Acute Care Clinic in South Portland. Ruth and his staff can see up to 80 patients during a normal day at the outpatient clinic, all of whom are showing symptoms of COVID-19. The clinic typically sees fewer patients on weekends. The acute care clinic only accepts patients, who have been referred after conferring with their primary care physicians.

InterMed is a physician-owned primary care practice that serves an estimated 75,000 patients at its sites in Yarmouth, Portland and South Portland.

At the Foden Road clinic, doctors and nurses are front-line health care workers assessing a patient’s symptoms and testing for the virus while wearing personal protective equipment. Though the gear is designed to protect doctors and nurses, Ruth said there is an underlying level of anxiety about becoming infected.

Ruth said the stress levels are high for health care workers at the clinic because “they have to be careful all the time. There is a level of alertness and anxiety that goes with the job.”

“I feel pretty safe, but I would feel more protected once I’ve had the vaccine,” Ruth said. “There is always a certain level of anxiety that you could get infected.”

Ruth is not sure when InterMed’s staff will start receiving the vaccine, but he counts himself among those front-line workers who wouldn’t hesitate to get a shot. Ruth said getting vaccinated is optional.

“I would put myself in the group of health care workers who are excited about the vaccine,” he said. “I think the vaccine is safe and in this case the benefits outweigh the risk.”

Registered nurse Shannon Fitzpatrick has dedicated her career to helping patients with heart conditions. Her role as an anti-coagulant nurse has her treating about 15 patients a day at a Mid Coast Hospital cardiology office in Brunswick.

Fitzpatrick, who lives in Topsham, said her patients, who are mostly elderly, are understandably nervous whenever they have to come into the office. But, Fitzpatrick said Mid Coast Hospital has done an outstanding job in providing the personal protective equipment she needs to keep herself and her patients safe. Despite those safety measures, Fitzpatrick said she won’t hesitate to get vaccinated. She called Monday’s vaccine rollout historic.

“We kept looking at our emails all day long. We kept wondering … is the vaccine coming?” said Fitzpatrick, who has been told she could be vaccinated by Christmas.

“I’ve done a lot of research on the vaccines and I’m excited about it. I’m going to get vaccinated. I feel confident that it’s safe,” she said.

Though Leslie Tsomides of Lyman is not your typical front-line health care worker, her job as a pediatric occupational therapist does require that she visit patients at their homes. Her patients range from newborns to teens, and when she goes into a home, she never knows what to expect.

Adding to her stress is the unknown – has a parent or sibling in the home been exposed to COVID-19? To be safe, her employer, MaineHealth Care at Home has outfitted her with personal protective equipment. She has been told that she could be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Tsomides, whose territory is Cumberland County, admits it took her a while to realize that a vaccine could be a good thing.

“For a long time I wasn’t on board with getting vaccinated, but it became obvious to me that with the community spread we are seeing masking alone was not totally effective,” she said. “I’m willing to get vaccinated, but not excited about it.”

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