'Step in the right direction' as Minnesota nursing home residents get first vaccine doses

Two men clap while sitting.
Nurses Crystal DeMoss (left) and Dani Johnson (right) watch as veteran Curtis Sannerud celebrates with Daniel Willems after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The two men were the first to receive the shots at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center on Tuesday.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Minnesotans in nursing homes are beginning to take steps to safety. At the St. Cloud VA Community Living Center, residents and staff began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.

Just after 2 p.m., the first resident and first staff member at the nursing home received initial doses of the Moderna vaccine. They're among the first long-term care residents and staff members in the state to get vaccinated.

"This is the road to our veterans getting to see their loved ones again, getting to go outside, getting to move freely again," said nurse manager Mandi Loxterkamp.

An assisted living facility at the Prairie Island Indian Community also began vaccinating residents Tuesday.

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"I think the biggest thing for us is just this is this is an effort and getting them back to a more normal lifestyle, one that we've struggled with alongside them for these past nine months. So it's a very exciting day, because this just seems to be the beginning of the end," Loxterkamp said.

An older man sitting in a wheelchair gets a shot.
Korean war veteran Curtis Sannerud, 90, was the first patient at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday in St. Cloud, Minn.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

The first vaccinations are good news for long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which have been hardest hit by the virus. Sixty-five percent of the state's 4,896 deaths have been among long-term care residents.

The St. Cloud VA received 1,300 initial doses of the Moderna vaccine Monday, and expects a second shipment of doses in early January, when they anticipate giving out the vaccine to veterans who don't live in long-term care.

The state's other long-term care facilities are setting up their vaccine plans, with many planning to begin vaccinations starting next week.

People wearing scrubs look at sheets of paper
Employees at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center gather for a briefing before administering the first shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Loxterkamp said about 90 percent of residents at the St. Cloud VA home have agreed to take the vaccine, and said she expects that number could grow. She's excited to get the vaccine sometime this week.

"In my heart as a nurse, just a moral obligation to be a part of the effort to moving forward as a community, as a facility. And just as a whole, just knowing that we've come so far, and this is just the next step, finally a step in the right direction when it feels like we've taken so many steps backwards."

The nurse said the VA home held off the coronavirus for months, and then had a handful of cases. COVID-19 had already changed the lives of residents before there were any confirmed infections, as concerns over spread cut them off from family and friends. But now they know things will change.

"It's an exciting day to be able to see that hopefully those outbreaks will no longer happen because we now have the vaccination," Loxterkamp said.

Residents who got their first dose will get a second dose to complete their vaccination in 28 days.