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'We get to be a little freer after this'

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | January 26, 2021 1:08 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Some 215 residents, caregivers, volunteers and staff filled the North Star Assisted and Senior Living facility Monday morning for their shot at a COVID-19 vaccine.

North Star was one of the first facilities in the Coeur d’Alene area to receive Pfizer vaccines, executive director Tambra Maple said. Through its parent company, the Stellar Living Corporation, Maple said North Star and 12 other associated communities have been on the vaccination list with Walgreens since October. 

Protecting the facility's employee and its 159 residents was a test throughout the pandemic, Maple said. Since closing the facility to visitors last February, activities and visitations have been restrained for almost a year. The strict measures helped the community, Maple said, as fewer than six residents contracted the disease.

“It has been a challenge, but we are very proud that we’ve been able to contain the very few residents that did get COVID,” Maple said. “We haven’t had the epidemic spread within the community. We were very proactive through everything and have contained it well.”

Over the last few months, the North Star has reopened its doors to familial visits, and with the vaccine, Maple — and the residents — are excited to continue reentering the community.

Martha Sandstorm was particularly happy to receive her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine Monday because it meant being one step closer to seeing her family. 

“First thing I’m going to do is see my daughter and grandchildren,” the 94-year-old Sandstorm said. “It would be nice to give them a hug.”

Without flinching, Sandstorm watched as Walgreens pharmacist Rob Snijder administered her immunization. She wasn’t nervous, as the last one was easy as pie. More so, she was giddy and said everyone else at North Star was too. 

“I think everyone’s excited to go out and be together, be a community again,” Sandstorm said. “They’re all excited to get their shots. You know we get to see each other, play games, and eat together, but there is nothing like family.”

Judy and Shirley Cicero were recipients of two of the 215 doses delivered Monday. It was Judy’s first dose of the vaccine, which she was able to receive because of her caretaker status for her 86-year-old mother, Shirley. 

“I’ve been excited for this,” Judy said. “I’ve had a lot of anticipation waiting for this, especially after my mother got her first round.”

For Jim Whaley, 92, his second Pfizer vaccine signified one thing — getting back to normal. 

“I want to go outside and live a normal life, whatever that means now,” Whaley said. “We get to be a little freer after this.”

Working with Walgreens pharmacists were the in-house Mezacare staff and Dr. Michael Meza. Like the residents, Meza sees the vaccine as the light at the end of the tunnel.

He was thankful that the distribution and rollout procedure prioritized medical professionals, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, and the vulnerable population. 

“Hopefully, as we continue to get the vaccine out to the rest of the community and those over 65, we can be able to protect more people and minimize the ability for the virus to spread from person to person,” Meza said. 

Mezacare and its 15 staff members started at North Star last fall, which Meza believes was perfect timing. Through their staff network, his team has been able to stay in the facility, work with patients in their homes, and keep them safe. 

“They’ve been locked down for so long, so from a resident perspective, I think they’re even more excited than we are about this vaccine,” Meza said. “Residents understand they are at high risk, so they are standing in line to get this vaccine because they are ready for that security.”

While there has been some nervousness, Meza said, he has assured recipients the possibility of reacting negatively to the vaccine is slim. For the most part, the most likely effect would be a sore arm, maybe a little redness or swelling. Anything more than that, like headaches, body chills, aches or a fever is more unlikely and hasn’t been seen from any residents so far, Meza said. 

“There are brilliant people that have put this vaccine together, and all the safety data that has come out shows a 95% efficacy rate,” he said. “This is the right thing to do. We need to put our fears aside, get through this, and get to the other side as quick as we can.”

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Filled with excitement, 94-year-old North Star resident Martha Sandstorm smiles under her mask after receiving her second round of the Pfizer vaccine Monday morning at North Star in Coeur d'Alene. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Walgreens pharmacist Rob Snijder takes extra care giving 86-year-old North Star resident Shirley Cicero her second round of the Pfizer vaccine. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Walgreens pharmacist Garret Neilson gives Judy Cicero her first round of the Pfizer vaccine Monday morning at the North Star Assisted and Senior Living facility. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Working with Walgreens at North Star on Monday were the in-house medical staff, Dr. Michael Meza and the Mezacare team. (MADISON HARDY/Press)