Christmas came a day early for some people — in the form of a shot in the arm at the local hospital. 

In a second-floor room at Peterson Regional Medical Center, a festive mood prevailed early Thursday morning. Employees poured themselves coffee at a large beverage station, some got their pictures taken next to a life-size cutout of Will Ferrell dressed as an elf, and five vaccination tables were set up bearing decorations such as a small, lighted Christmas tree, giant nutcracker and candy canes. 

A large screen on a wall bore a video of a Christmas tree near a wreath-decorated hearth with a flickering fire.

Among this Christmas cheer, employees chatted and laughed, and some wore holiday shirts and sweaters.  

At one of the tables, ER physician Laura Costas sat very still as nurse Pam Burton prepared to administer the first Moderna COVID-19 vaccination in Kerrville. In went the needle, on went a bandaid, and Costas got up and jumped with her fist in the air. 

“Yay!” said Costas in relief. 

With the recent spike in active coronavirus infections countywide — more than 430 active cases as of Wednesday — and the ICU full of COVID-19 patients, staff at PRMC have been very busy and more at risk than ever. 

“We’re all very tired and very relieved,” Costas said after getting the vaccine. Later, she sent a reflective email. 

“We’ve been working so hard trying to mitigate symptoms and treat infections, and it is so exciting to get to be part of helping PREVENT infections from happening in the first place!” Costas wrote. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and every person who gets vaccinated helps us ALL get there together.”

In the next few days, more than half of Peterson Health’s frontline employees will have been vaccinated, said Peterson Health CEO Cory Edmondson.

“Our goal is to have all 500 administered within four days,” Edmondson said. “It couldn’t come soon enough. We’re happy that we received the vaccine when we did, and we are delivering it as soon as possible.” 

Peterson Regional Medical Center received 500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. Nurses and other “tier one” employees who deal directly with patients may take the vaccine if they wish — it’s not mandatory, Edmondson said.

The Moderna vaccine comes in two doses. Edmondson said the second dose isn’t available yet, and there’s no delivery date at this time. 

“This initial dose does provide a level of immunity, but not fully until they receive the second dose,” Edmondson said. 

Even with the second dose, hospital employees will still have to wear personal protective equipment to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said.

Meri Beth Schwendeman, one of the nurses who is administering the vaccine, said she’s proud to be part of the effort to protect people from the coronavirus.

“I’m thrilled, because everybody has this sense of hope now, and I don’t know whether it’s the New Year or what, but I feel much happier,” Schwendeman said. “I feel like things are going to get better in the next year.”

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