By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – One year ago today, the first COVID-19 vaccines went into arms. The first to receive them were healthcare workers, the frontline heroes this country has praised throughout the pandemic. A year later, those nurses and doctors still come face to face with a virus much of America has grown weary of – or still haven’t accepted.

CBS4 spoke with healthcare workers at National Jewish Health as they reflect on life after the vaccine.

“You’re trying to be that person that’s keeping patients calm and reassuring them that things are going to be fine, while you yourself are also very scared,” said Danielle Schmitz, a Registered Nurse at National Jewish Health.

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Schmitz began working at National Jewish Health in Denver two years ago, right before COVID-19 surged through the city. She knew the vaccine was coming, and when it did, that shot in the arm was emotional.

To healthcare workers the vaccine meant more than being able to visit family and resume normal activities, it meant coming to work with more peace of mind. It meant more opportunities to connect with patients.

“When it finally came into place, a lot of us were moved to tears and actually cried. We were so excited to get it,” said Schmitz.

”At first we’re told we weren’t supposed to stay longer than a certain amount of time with these people. It was hard because you felt like you couldn’t be very personal with them, almost because you’re scared of them. Not that we wanted to act that way, but just out of safety precaution,” said Schmitz.

For NJH doctors like Patricia George, December 14th is the anniversary of hope.

“When the vaccine came out, it was a light at the end of the tunnel. We all signed up right away because it was a chance for protection. I was never going to ask something of my patients that I wouldn’t do myself. This was a chance for everybody to join us in the fight against COVID-19,” George, Pulmonary Critical Care Physician at National Jewish Health.

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George was behind the state’s vaccine rollout, and she marked the occasion like so many of us have – with a selfie. She sent it to her mother, who she’ll finally see this Christmas.

The anniversary of the vaccine brings a slew of emotions for healthcare workers. They think about how far we’ve come, and as hospitals reach capacity again, how far we have to go.

George doesn’t resent those who are unvaccinated. In a way, she feels bad for them.

“I don’t get angry with that person. I feel that they’re more of a victim,” said George.

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“They’re a victim of misinformation and these forces that have run counter to the science. Unfortunately, the people who propagate information are not there to take care of them. We’ll take care of anybody who comes through our doors. That’s our job,” George said.

We know how many lives COVID has taken, but there’s no telling how many the vaccine has saved.

While millions still choose to avoid the shot, George thinks about her patients who never had the chance.

“A year ago was a really tough time in the ICU. We were surging and young people were dying. It’s always tragic. We got to know them and their families. I remember those people and I remember their families. It still affects me,” says George.

 

 

Tori Mason