Dr. Clarkson first one at PRMC to get COVID-19 vaccination shot

Courtney Blankenship
Pratt Tribune
Dr. Eric Clarkson, Family Physician at Pratt Family Practice, was one of the first staff members at PRMC to receive the COVID-19 vaccine last week. He is hopeful that, as more vaccines become available, this will be a game-changer in the fight against the coronavirus.

As the United States enters the beginning stages of vaccine distribution for qualifying individuals, Pratt has also started administering a limited number of vaccines to continue the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Dr. Eric Clarkson, D.O., MBA Family Physician at Pratt Family Practice, recently received the vaccine and said that he has followed the development of the vaccines from the very beginning.

“I trust the product. I have received it,” Clarkson said. “Other than a sore arm for 24 hours, I have not had any adverse effects. I do not know of any front-line healthcare worker in town who is a candidate for the vaccine who didn't get it.”

Though the vaccines are new and it is not yet certain how long immunity will last, Clarkson said that the short and long term harms of COVID-19 can be scarier than any risk of the vaccine for many people.

“I cannot express the relief and joy felt by every healthcare worker who has already received this vaccine. We feel that this is the beginning of the end of this virus,” Clarkson said. “The overwhelming feeling that there is an end in sight is palpable throughout the hospital. When the first little box of 130 vaccines was delivered, it felt like Christmas morning with giddiness and excitement.”

Nevertheless, Clarkson said that January and February may still be difficult for the community due to the limited number of vaccines available. 

“We do not anticipate having enough vaccines to immunize all those who want it in our community until possibly May or June,” Clarkson said. “This is the only way out of this pandemic.”

Though the coronavirus pandemic has been ongoing for nearly a year, Clarkson said this region was ‘pretty lucky’ until October.

“Covid has been a roller coaster. Early on in this pandemic we all felt that if this virus hit rural America hard, we would be in trouble,” Clarkson said. “We could see that these patients-- with their prolonged hospital stays-- were taking significant hospital resources.

We knew that with limited hospital beds and hospital staffing, if we got hit hard, it could paralyze us. With just a few staff out, we might lose our ability to provide care in critical departments like OB, ICU, radiology, or lab for example.”

As the months went by, however, Clarkson said there was no more than a “slow trickle of COVID positive patients” and though healthcare workers prepared and braced themselves for a surge in cases with every 5 to 10 confirmed cases, it was not until October that the region was hit hard.

“After Halloween, we began seeing a huge rise in cases,” Clarkson said. “We saw positivity rates in the 30-40% range and our clinic was overwhelmed with calls asking about symptoms and testing. Our ER became ground zero for evaluating, treating, admitting, or transferring COVID positive patients.”

There were challenges that came with the surge in cases, but having spent each day studying and preparing for the virus, Clarkson said healthcare workers were prepared.

“I cannot say enough great things about our hospital's pandemic response team. By the time our ICU was filling up with COVID patients, we always felt we had everything we needed to do our jobs,” Clarkson said. “Our maintenance staff was able to convert enough rooms into negative pressure HEPA filtration rooms so we could keep up to 10 patients safely isolated. Lab had been aggressively ordering rapid testing supplies and equipment so when our cases started rising we were able to respond with drive-up rapid testing for most symptomatic patients.”

Quickly and accurately testing and identifying positive cases helped to flatten the curve, Clarkson said, which has saved “countless unintentional exposures through quarantine recommendations for those families with known positives.”

“Our pharmacy had already been prepared by requesting early supplies of Remdesivir, convalescent plasma, and other novel treatments that many larger hospitals were not able to get. Nursing homes were able to ease the hospital burden by keeping sick COVID patients and providing oxygen and medications usually reserved for hospital level patients,” Clarkson said. “Our community needs to know that because our hospital administration and community health professionals took seriously their duty to care for this community, our emergency preparedness was second-to-none.”

With better equipment, medications, facilities, and more prepared staff, Clarkson said they were able to face the surge in cases head-on.

Though the pandemic has been “devastating to the nation and the global economy,” Clarkson said it has also provided the country with an opportunity to identify vulnerabilities and improve the system. Especially, given the fear that this pandemic may not be the last.

“Your community health workers have dedicated their lives to their profession,” Clarkson said. “Up until now, their only real risk was that of an inadvertent needle stick or missing a family obligation to an emergency call. Their hearts and their aptitudes have led them to help alleviate suffering in their community. That nature is still true.”

In the months since COVID-19 began impacting the community, Clarkson said health workers have had to face the difficult effects of COVID-19 on a near daily basis.

“They have showered at work to try to avoid bringing this virus home to their families. They have cancelled family gatherings to keep their loved ones safe. They have endured 12 hour shifts in layers of masks and other PPE to protect themselves and their patients,” Clarkson said. “Even with all this, they wouldn't rather be doing anything else. This is what we trained for. This is who we are. This is how we love our community. Every profession will have a ‘time such as this.’ But, unfortunately, COVID-19 is ours.”

Though it is still unclear exactly when vaccines will be available to all who want them within the general public, Clarkson said people must remain diligent and be careful.

“Wear a mask, avoid large indoor gatherings, follow local pandemic responses. You know what the recommendations are,” Clarkson said. “I know it's difficult. In November, when we had a surge of cases, you responded appropriately. Our numbers went down. You were better at wearing masks. You showed love and grace to your neighbor. It's almost over. Stay diligent -- we will."