WABASHA — "It's the light at the end of the tunnel," said Jan Wise after she and her husband, Roger Wise, received their first shots Friday at a community COVID-19 vaccine clinic hosted by Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Clinics.

They will get their second dose of the vaccine in 28 days.

While those called for appointments are selected randomly after registering – the Wises, of Wabasha, registered two weeks ago – the married couple were both selected for shots this past week.

Both said they were glad they could get their COVID-19 vaccine together, but had only one of them been selected, each said they would have gotten the shot.

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Still Can't Taste

The Wises have dealt with COVID-19 first-hand. On Nov. 4, Roger was confirmed having the virus.

"I coughed for six hours straight," Roger said, recounting his worst days with COVID-19. "And I had a fever."

With Jan being a former registered nurse, they tried to care for him using virtual care through Gundersen St. Elizabeth's, but after 13 days, he needed a trip to the emergency room.

"If I wouldn’t have had my wife administering my medications, I’d have been in deep trouble," Roger said, adding that knowing how much he relied on her help made him concerned for friends and relatives who might not have someone with Jan's expertise in the house helping administer 10 pills a day.

Roger dealt with the mental fogginess that is a common symptom of COVID-19 patients, and three months later he still hasn't regained his sense of taste, he said.

As for Jan, she never received a confirmed COVID-19 test, but after Roger recovered, she did receive a positive antibody test, she said. Fortunately, her symptoms were mild when she believes she had the disease.

Community Response to Vaccine

Kim Wolter, a registered nurse with Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital, said there has been everything from tears of joy to shouts of "Hallelujah!" from people who have been notified they can schedule their first of two shots. Consequently, staff have happily joined up to help with the community vaccination clinics.

“We have people volunteering to do this because everybody’s having so much fun being able to do something for our community," Wolter said. "They are so happy about getting it. We’ve had tears."

Kim Wolter, R.N. from Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital, prepares Covid-19 vaccinations Friday, February 12, 2021, at the fire hall in Wabasha. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
Kim Wolter, R.N. from Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital, prepares Covid-19 vaccinations Friday, February 12, 2021, at the fire hall in Wabasha. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Gundersen St. Elizabeth's received 100 shots about two weeks ago and another 100 shots this past week to distribute to patients ages 65 and older, part of that Priority 1B group, Wolter said. Meanwhile, Wabasha County Public Health has been distributing shots to individuals in Priority 1A in the county.

"We’re prepared for an adverse reaction like anaphylaxis or anything like that," Wolter said, adding that so far the main side effects of the shots have been sore arms, fatigue, low grade fevers or headaches.

“This is a reaction I’d expect with a vaccine,” Wolter said.

Most people, Wolter said, who come to get their shot say it is being able to see friends and family confident that they are not putting anyone's health at risk that's motivating them to brave cold and snow to show up at a vaccine clinic.

“It’s not fun not to see your family, but to have that underlying fear that you could die if you did is really a big motivator to get them here,” Wolter said. “I worry sometimes about COVID, the toll it took on our elderly.”

Friday's vaccine was the Moderna variety, Wolter said. The next batch for the Priority 1B patients will be the Pfizer version of the vaccine. One of the challenges going forward is the logistics of ensuring that people get their second shot on time and of the right variety.

“We’re just so grateful people are being patient and understanding, because we want to vaccinate everybody that’s eligible," said Jenny Schlagenhaft, communications director for Gundersen St. Elizabeth's. "And yet, we’re restricted by the supply we’re getting on a week-by-week basis."

Friends And Family Plan

Being able to return to a normal life is a big piece of the motivation that drew the Wises to the Wabasha Fire Hall for the vaccine clinic Friday.

Both were active volunteers in the community before COVID-19, but that was been put on hold by the pandemic. They've also missed seeing their family.

"We’ve had little visits from family members here and there, but my siblings, most of them I haven’t seen for a year," said Jan.

Roger added that his lone sister, who lives in Goodview, along with her husband, don't leave their house due to fears of catching COVID-19.

"It’s very sad," he said.

Not that he doesn't understand. He and Jan leave the house infrequently, are always masked and maintain social distancing when they do need to be in public, he said.

"We'll get through this," Roger said.

To which his wife added, hopefully, "We’re ready to have a mask-burning party."