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ICU nurse volunteers to be 1st vaccine recipient in NH

December 15, 2020 GMT
With temperatures slightly below freezing, intensive care unit nurse Heidi Kukla, center, sits next to a snow bank as she is injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside the Elliot Hospital, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
With temperatures slightly below freezing, intensive care unit nurse Heidi Kukla, center, sits next to a snow bank as she is injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside the Elliot Hospital, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — An intensive care unit nurse who was the first person to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in New Hampshire said Tuesday she wanted to inspire others to overcome their fears.

Heidi Kukla received her first dose of the vaccine Tuesday, and was quickly followed by four of her colleagues at Elliot Hospital in Manchester.

“I volunteered to be first to get this vaccine because I know a lot of people have reservations about getting the vaccine,” she said. “They’re worried about how fast it was produced, what the long-term effects may be, but I can assure you that there is absolutely nothing worse than being a patient on a ventilator in an ICU anywhere in this country right now with COVID, and the anguish of the family members that can’t be there.”

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Health care workers are first in line for the vaccine under the state’s distribution plan. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state expects to distribute all 12,000 doses in the initial shipment within about a week. Vaccinations of residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are scheduled to start Dec. 21, she said.

“As a nurse, this is a very emotional moment for me. For the last nine months we’ve been collectively searching for a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “As a community we now have our solution.”

The initial vaccinations were given outside in 27-degree weather, prompting one attendee to jokingly ask whether officials were highlighting the vaccine’s cold storage requirements.

“This is a typical New England-New Hampshire day, so nothing we can’t handle,” answered Gov. Chris Sununu.

Though he admitted to a fear of needles, Sununu said he is eager to get the vaccine. But unlike governors in some states, he plans to wait his turn.

“I’m 46, I’m fairly young, no other health conditions,” he said. “I know there’s talk of elected officials of getting the vaccine before those in a long-term care facility or before nurses. I think that’s ridiculous, frankly.”

Kukla said she and her colleagues are often so busy they can’t spend as much time with grieving relatives as they would like.

“We don’t have the time to hold a family, the hands of the patients and calm them the way that we would like to,” she said. “So, getting this vaccine, for me, is the first step in having all of this be done. And I really hope that our getting this first inspires other people to not be afraid and to step up and to get the vaccine.”

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THE NUMBERS

More than 32,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, with 670 cases announced Tuesday that included results from several days earlier in the week. No new deaths were announced; a total of 604 people have died since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 422 new cases per day on Nov. 30 to 866 new cases per day on Monday.