The last nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been extraordinarily difficult for Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital nurse Nicole Krenzel.

The Northfield resident has been saddled with a heavy workload, including a 16-hour workday on Thanksgiving tending to patients, some of whomhave contracted the sometimes-deadly virus. That stress has been compounded by a lack of close contact with friends and loved ones who can calm frazzled nerves and anxiety just by their presence.

On Wednesday, Krenzel was one of the few Minnesotans to received a vaccine intended to reduce the adverse impacts of the virus. So far, just 3,000 doses have been delivered to Minnesota, though thousands more are expects in the coming days.

The first COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month. A vaccine made by Moderna is expected to receive federal approval within days. The initial shipments of vaccines to Minnesota are being earmarked for health care workers who are at greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Krenzel, who has not had COVID-19, said the inoculation was quick and easy, and after four hours her arm was only slightly sore. She will receive the final dose of the shot in three weeks.

“I feel totally fine,” she saud.

‘It’s the one tool we have’

The VA Hospital received Minnesota’s first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine Monday. The first staff member was given the vaccine Tuesday. Other Minnesota hospital systems expected to receive their initial shipments in the next day or two.

“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for,” said Gov. Tim Walz, who was at the hospital when the shipment arrived, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“We are excited to provide a vaccine that has the potential to help get COVID-19 under control when used alongside public health measures such as masking, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing,” said Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA.

Though Krenzel acknowledged her nervousness prior to being vaccinated, and the right of everyone to choose an approach for themselves, she views taking the vaccine as a way to put an end to the pandemic, and the associated adverse economic and social impacts.

Krenzel’s VA colleague, nurse Jill Peters, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late April, also received the flu shot Wednesday. The virus didn’t hospitalize her led her to call 911 after falling over and struggling to breathe.

“They are very organized and friendly,” she said of the vaccination process. “We were not rushed.”

“It’s the one tool we have,” Peters said of why she volunteered to take the vaccine. “It should be an effective tool to end this once and for all. It’s the beginning of the end.”

‘It’s kind of our reality right now’

The previous months have been grueling for Krenzel and her colleagues. She has worked overtime — up to 20 hours per week — and volunteered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Through her work she is all-too-familiar with the unpredictable symptoms the virus can have on those it infects: Everyone from the asymptomatic to people who have fevers, clotting issues, body aches or need oxygen. Sometimes, patients begin to improve before symptoms quickly worsen. Krenzel is also aware of the sometimes long-term impact the virus has on people: Some recover well and don’t see long-lasting impacts while others still struggle to breathe six months after their infection begins.

“It’s a long process,” she noted.

The second wave of the pandemic has proved especially grueling for the Minneapolis VA Hospital. More patients than ever are reportedly in the hospital’s ICU, and five wards are taking patients with the virus. The VA is also taking overflow patients from other places.

Out of an abundance of caution, Krenzel has distanced herself from her children and grandchildren for a majority of the pandemic and hasn’t been able to visit her mother since the onset of the virus. Still, the onset of the vaccine leaves health officials hopeful that life will soon begin to return to normal as more doses of the vaccine are given throughout the country. That anticipation, along with a supportive atmosphere and extraordinary patients, leaves Krenzel optimistic.

“There’s a lot of great hope in the air,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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