Vicki Nemmers and Kim Lee prepare the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to give to residents and staff.

On Jan. 5, staff and residents of River Bend Retirement Community in Cascade were injected with their first round of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The process began early in the morning with preparation and paperwork.

Vicki Nemmers, a nurse and regional manager of River Bend Retirement Community, Grand Haven Retirement in Eldridge and Bell Tower Retirement in East Dubuque, Ill., explained the importance of data-gathering and forms before the injection.

“Once they fill out the consent form, everybody was screened today with their temperature and questions to see if they might have COVID-19,” she said. “The nurses went around with a questionnaire about if you’ve had the vaccine yet, if you have allergies or reactions. That’s all required by the CDC in their research to find out if anyone is reacting to it. There’s a barcode and everyone was asked to bring their phones in. We scan it and it asks for your name, social security number and five or six questions. It goes to Community Pharmacy and then gets uploaded to the CDC. If it’s not being submitted, they can’t record it.”

The vaccine was provided through Community Pharmacy out of the Quad Cities by Kim Lee and Vivian Houtekier, who led the preparation and instruction of how to properly use the vaccine after removing the samples from a freezer.

“It needs to come to room temperature and then we dilute it with sodium chloride,” said Lee. “We keep it frozen for transport, otherwise it won’t be effective. Once it comes out of the freezer, it’s only good for five days. First, we brought it from Gretna, Neb., which is where our headquarters is. Vivian met them halfway and got them into the refrigerator at the pharmacy in Davenport. Then we brought it this morning in our little coolers. Every time we open up the cooler, we have to record the temperature.”

The initiative is titled “Project HUG” and is being carried out in many care centers.

Lee said, “It’s called Project HUG because we know these residents have been basically without their families for so long and all we want is for them to be able to hug their loved ones again.”

Residents and staff received their initial vaccination and were told to remain still for 15 minutes afterward to check for potential side-effects or reactions. Lee said that this was just the first round of vaccine injections required to immunize the residents and staff.

She said, “Today they received a vaccination and in 21 days we will be back to do the whole thing over again. The first vaccine basically gives your immune system a snapshot of the coronavirus and tells it what to look for. The second vaccine we do will build their immune system up so they get all the antibodies going and be able to fight the infection if they ever were to get it.”

Nemmers said that, while they haven’t received directions past the second round of vaccines, she is hopeful that this is a step in the direction of returning to normal.

She said, “Whatever normal is going to be, we’re trying to get back to it, as near normal as we possibly can.”