Montclair doctor was one of the first to receive COVID vaccine
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS and KATE ALBRIGHT
For Dr. Rovie Mesola of Montclair, getting the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 15, was both humbling and overwhelming.
She was on the front line at University Hospital Brooklyn/SUNY Downstate Medical Center when their first coronavirus patient came through the doors on March 13. Mesola and her colleagues treated COVID patients, putting themselves and their families at risk, as the numbers climbed, peaking in April.
“It was stressful, probably one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my life,” Mesola said. “You feel helpless, and it’s unprecedented. You hope that you could do more. And unfortunately at that time we just really didn’t have enough information or experience or medications to really be able to make a difference. It was pretty hard.”
Nothing in medical school could have prepared her or her colleagues for a global pandemic, she said: “Not at this level. You think about diabetes, high blood pressure, but you never think about something like this pandemic. It was never in my mind at all.”
Certified in internal medicine, she says she is classified as a “hospitalist,” typically taking care of patients in the hospital with conditions such as heart failure, pneumonia or heart disease.
Mesola said she and colleagues have done a lot of self-reflection since the pandemic hit, especially after they lost one of the hospital’s critical-care physicians who contracted COVID working to take care of patients.
“In terms of, you know, is this worth it? The things that you’re doing, you’re putting yourself at risk,” she said. “You’re putting your family at risk to take care of patients. So that just kind of maybe makes you take a step back and just question why you’re doing this, and really at the end of the day, it’s just something that you love and you really believe in – being a physician. And that just makes you want to do more, but it does make you reflect on what you have, and you know, the values that you have.”
Nine months into the pandemic, Mesola appreciates being a doctor even more. “The fact that I can actually make this difference, it maybe has a bit more weight for me,” she said.
VACCINE IS A ‘RAY OF HOPE’
So on Dec. 15, when she reported to work and was told she would get the vaccine, she was a little overwhelmed, “just because of, I guess, just the enormity of the whole situation.”
She was also the first physician in the hospital to receive it.
“It’s like being one of the first people to have received the vaccine, it’s a big deal. It’s a privilege because not everybody has this opportunity. So I feel lucky to actually have the opportunity to be able to get the vaccine,” Mesola said.
The vaccine couldn’t come at a better time. After a lull in the summer and early fall, case and mortality numbers have been climbing again. As the nation goes into the second wave, keeping those on the front line healthy is essential. And because the entire nation is expected to see the second wave at the same time, calling in health care workers from other states, as New Jersey and New York did in March and April, won’t be feasible.
“Obviously, the people who are frontline who are actually seeing patients, and who are exposed to patients coming in with COVID, are getting it,” she said about the decision to vaccinate health care workers first.
Although the number of COVID patients is rising again, there’s another ray of hope.
“It’s nowhere close to where it was in the beginning, you know, and the type of patients that we’re getting with COVID are less sick. They’re not as sick as the ones we saw in March and April, which was just the most horrible thing ever,” she said.
Mesola hopes that people are reassured by the fact that doctors, nurses and frontline workers are lining up to get the vaccine, and that it will convince everyone to get vaccinated against the virus.
As of Dec. 18, 2,149 New Jersey health care workers have received the vaccine, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
The state has set a goal to get 70 percent of its population vaccinated. The CDC has issued eight things to know about the vaccine fact sheet.
Mesola said that about a month ago she still had some questions, but since the study on efficiency and side effects was released, she was reassured. She took the Pfizer vaccine, which she had no side effects from and which is reportedly 95 percent effective against the virus. As it’s a two-dose vaccine, Mesola will get her second inoculation in January.
“I mean, I think this is one big step in the fight to stopping the spread of COVID and getting this under control,” she said. “I think that to be able to prevent the number of deaths and the number of sick people that we have, we need to start with something, and this is a great fit, and this is a big step.”
But she said she will still practice social distancing, mask-wearing and “the same precautions I’ve been taking from before.”
The Montclair Health Department has already registered as a vaccination site, and expects to start holding clinics in January. This week, Essex County designated five vaccine centers, which are all expected to start offering appointments next week. Montclairians can make appointments for the clinic at the former Kmart in West Orange.
Mountainside hospital received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17.