‘I’m happy it’s here’: School nurse gets COVID-19 vaccine at Panhandle Health clinic

HAYDEN, Idaho — History is being made in North Idaho. Healthcare workers and first responders are getting a COVID-19 vaccine at a new vaccination clinic hosted by the Panhandle Health District.

Out of the 11,000 vaccines the district has, 4,400 have been set aside for the clinics in Kellogg, Hayden and Sandpoint. One person who got the vaccine on Wednesday was Nichole Piekarski.

“I’ve been hoping for it for a long time, so I’m happy it’s here,” Piekarski said.

She’s the head school nurse for Coeur d’Alene Public Schools. A lot has changed during this pandemic. Classrooms don’t look the same and students have had to adjust to this.

“Our jobs are not what they were before and that does affect me,” Piekarski said, holding back tears.

When the news came down that Piekarski could get the vaccine at PHD, she signed up as soon as she could.

“I was so excited and of course, I wanted to make sure that all of those first-line care providers in the emergency room and the ICUs in the hospital get that vaccine first,” she explained.

On Wednesday morning, Piekarski pulled into the district parking lot in Hayden.

“I put my car in park, took a deep breath and I said it’s here. It’s now,” she said. “It’s today. Gathered up my things. What am I going to need and I came in strong, confident and comfortable.”

She walked into the building with a huge smile on her face. After filling out some paperwork, Piekarski made her way into another room.

Workers from the Medical Reserve Corp and other staff members were giving the vaccine to other patients. Piekarski sat down and took the first step on her journey to vaccination.

“That was simple and easy,” she said. “It didn’t burn and it was quick.”

Currently, Idaho’s recommended plan states only healthcare workers like nurses, dentists, physical therapists and more can get the vaccine.

Idaho Vaccine Rollout Timeline

She wasn’t the only one with the same joyous reaction. Dr. Jenna Silakoski, a physician in Hayden, wanted to record the moment with a photo.

“I want to do everything that I possibly can to keep them [patients] safe,” Silakoski said. “Not just masking and social distancing and doing things by phone and tele-med, but obviously getting the vaccine.”

When the vaccine is administered, patients wait for 15 minutes just in case they have a reaction that requires medical attention. After, they schedule their next appointment for the second and final dose of the same vaccine.

“I think I’m on the right side of history here and I’m excited for our community that we have this available to us,” Piekarski explained. “I think I might save the sticker and put it in my memory box.”

The clinics will last until next week. Idaho Gov. Brad Little hopes to have all 130,000 healthcare workers vaccinated by the end of January.

“I’m praying and I’m imploring that everybody who can will get this because this can protect our community and it can help get us back to our regular lives,” Silakoski said.

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