CORONAVIRUS

First Iowa coronavirus vaccines offer hopeful moment in devastating pandemic

Staff nurse Rachel Lewis on Dec. 14 administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to emergency room nurse David Conwa
Staff nurse Rachel Lewis on Dec. 14 administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to emergency room nurse David Conway at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Conway, who works with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, was the first individual in Iowa to receive the vaccine. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

First came the words, and shortly after the tears.

The moment was not expected. But neither was it difficult to interpret.

A week ago, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered across the country, including in Iowa. It was a seminal moment in the ninth month of the ongoing pandemic.

The first shot in Iowa was documented by a few journalists, including Vanessa Miller and Andy Abeyta of The Gazette. At 9:39 a.m. Dec. 14, Miller tweeted a five-second video of David Conway, an emergency room nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, receiving the historic shot.

I retweeted that video with my own caption: “The #COVID19 vaccine is being administered today in Iowa.”

As I typed those words, tears formed in my eyes as emotions welled up inside.

I hadn’t expected that. But thinking about it afterward, it made complete sense.

This has been a rough nine months for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons. And the COVID-19 vaccines are the brightest rays of hope yet for a return to normalcy.

For everything we have all endured throughout this marathon of a miserable year, the finish line is finally in sight.

In too many ways, this pandemic has made 2020 a miserable year.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of roughly 3,500 Iowans, more than 300,000 Americans and nearly 2 million people worldwide.

Many businesses — especially in the hospitality industry — have been crushed by the pandemic. As a result, many workers have been laid off, missing out on essential income.

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Food insecurity in Iowa has doubled, meaning twice as many Iowans and their families are worried about having enough food on the table during the holidays.

Schools shut down in the spring and this fall have dealt with starts and stops, many of them shuffling between having students in their buildings and trying to learn remotely.

Families and friends have been kept apart while the virus rages.

That is a lot to deal with, and we’ve all been dealing with it now for the better part of a year. It has been difficult. It has been trying.

So when those first shipments of the vaccine arrived, hope arrived with them. There are still months to go in this pandemic, still a few miles to run in this marathon. But with the vaccines’ arrival, for the first time, we can sense the pandemic’s end.

Iowa expects to receive more than 138,000 doses of the vaccines in December. The state has prioritized for those first doses hospital workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities like nursing homes. After those people have received the vaccine, the next wave of doses will be made available to workers in essential and high-traffic professions, like emergency response, food processing, education and corrections.

Eventually — experts believe sometime next spring or summer — the vaccine will be available for anyone who wants it.

That process began this past week with an ER nurse in Iowa City.

For the first time in nine months, we have hope.

Hope is a powerful emotion. It’s even strong enough to make one tear up while composing a simple tweet.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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