Groundbreaking: Vaccinations at South End Community Health Seen as Historic New Beginning

Registered Nurse Morgan Brister was the first employee of the South End Community Health Center (SECHC) to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, and she said the moment felt emotional, groundbreaking and like a new beginning. Now, after that historic moment for herself, the clinic and the community at-large, she said she also feels a duty to encourage others to take the vaccine.

Like for many front-line health workers who were the first to receive the vaccine, they have taken on a dual role as history maker and ambassador. “It felt really encouraging and historic and the beginning of the end of this,” she said.

“It was encouraging every possible force in the country come together to try to make us safe. It will go down in history and will be a moment I never forget.” The SECHC, a division of the parent East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), received and administered the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to its first staff Monday morning just shorty after it arrived. That first group of employees included several from the East Boston facility, and Brister from the South End.

The Health Center will continue to vaccinate its staff beginning with those in the front lines treating COVID-19 patients and other clinical staff most at risk and hope to proceed with other staff as they receive more vaccine.  EBNHC said it is preparing for what it will take to vaccinate those most at risk in the community once the state enters into that phase, and eventually, they will be prepared to vaccinate all that they serve. Brister, who works as a nurse in the Family Medicine Department, has been seeing patients daily throughout the pandemic. 

She said being on the frontlines in a health care setting, she was ready for the vaccine and had no doubts about it – though she understands some do have concerns. “I was always planning on getting the vaccine,” she said. “It wasn’t a question for me. I trust the science and the process and think it’s too easy to complain that we’ve been in quarantine and we have restrictions on what we can and cannot do. I wanted to get it and be part of the solution.” Now, being part of the solution is also about being an ambassador for getting the vaccine, she said.

It was a role she didn’t expect, but is ready to embrace with patients who have natural concerns. “I definitely do feel I’m kind of a representative as a health care worker and someone who has received the vaccine to spread the message,” he said. “This shouldn’t be seen as political. COVID-19 shouldn’t be political. The vaccine shouldn’t be political. It is frustrating they get intertwined. For me as a health care worker, vaccines are so important. If they’re there to help you, why not be protected? I think it’s also a public safety consideration for those around you…It’s not just for yourself, but also for the health and safety of everyone around you.”

Brister, 23, said she was surprised to have been picked on Monday as the first from the SECHC to be vaccinated. She had expressed her interest for some time, and on Monday her manager said it was ready and she could be the first. She traveled to East Boston at the main clinic and got the vaccine along with several of high-priority workers. The vaccine does require a second booster within a month or so, and she said they are told strictly that the immunity is not 100 percent (it’s around 93 percent) and does not kick in for about three months. Brister said she would remain vigilant and continue all of the protocols that have been in place since March – whether in or out of work – despite having the vaccine.

However, she said having the vaccine now available does make her think about a work without masks and social distancing and quarantines. “Everything changed for us very fast in March and we adapted quickly to wearing masks and it has become normal,” she said. “It is interesting to think about a world without masks. You can’t go anywhere without one. We have adjusted to that. It’s like the phone or keys – you always need them. When we get to that point, it may feel like being naked when you don’t have a mask.

It will be a little while before we get to that point…” She said mask wearing, in some respects, might not go away in the future – particularly for the cold and flu season in Boston. So many have become accustomed to it, that maybe it will become more normalized and help people stop the annual spread of the flu.

“I wonder if it will actually go away in total or if it’s here to stay – especially during the flu season or in a healthcare setting,” she said. Brister said she is so glad the vaccine has arrived and it’s rolling out in what appears to be a coordinated and efficient way for the most part. “I feel more a part of the history making than I do part of a trial and error process,” she concluded.

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