Lakewood Hospital Begins Staff Vaccinations

Dr. Sandeepa Utpat, chief of Infectious Diseases at Community Medical Center South receives her COVID-19 vaccination from Nurse Kris Ruscil. Dr. Utpat was the first front-line health care worker at the hospital to receive a vaccination. (Photo courtesy Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus)

  LAKEWOOD – The first round of vaccinations began at local hospitals. Dr. Sandeepa Utpat was the first to receive her inoculation at Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus.

  Utpat, 50, of Freehold wasn’t shy about having the vaccination that was administered by Nurse Kris Ruscil. She is as front line as one can be – heading the hospital’s department of Infectious Diseases.

  Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus Marketing and Public Relations Manager Laurie Zalepka said, “We had 48 on the schedule today and we have the supply (of vaccine) that was intended for us. There are no concerns as of right now.”

  “I am very excited. I have done a lot of reading about this and I got myself empowered with lots of information about the Pfizer vaccine and the process in which the vaccine was created in such a short period of time and the technology behind it,” Dr. Utpat said.

  She said she also keeps up on research on flu vaccines as well. “I want to lead by example. We have staff here like nursing assistants who come up and ask me ‘should I get vaccinated?’ If I don’t get vaccinated how can I tell them to do so? That was one more reason I wanted to set an example and I feel wonderful. You could barely feel a pinch.”

  Dr. Utpat acknowledged that there was a fear of the unknown and that many people “don’t know the science behind it. I tell them to read up on that and this vaccine in particular allows people who are looking at me for the next few days to see how I do and hopefully I can motivate more of them to go get it.”

  “A lot of the nurses have said, I’ll see how you do and if you do well, I’ll go and get vaccinated,” the doctor said. “I hope to alleviate their fears and anxieties and I will be able to answer their questions because I could only answer what was in theory. I had all that information on paper but now that I have been vaccinated, I can tell them what it feels like, what it felt like while I was taking it and how I am going to do in the next few days,” Dr. Utpat added.

  She said, “that will be walking the walk and talking the talk.” The doctor takes care of COVID patients “and we have seen everything from the mild to the serious cases face-to-face in the nine months or so since the pandemic has started. We have kept up with the updated information that is provided and we handle patient care.”

  The pandemic has impacted her life severely. “It has been huge impact. It has been like a 360-degree turn. We wear regular clothes, regular shoes and that hair went into a cap, no makeup talking from a woman’s perspective. The mask from morning to night and because we take care of patients hands-on, we wear them all the time.”

  Dr. Utpat also noted that it was difficult to limit her time with patients who want to talk to her further for their own comfort and security. “They don’t see that many people coming or going. Their families aren’t coming so they latch on to anyone who is coming into the room.”

  “They keep you longer and longer and they have a million questions but there is a fine line between being compassionate and protecting yourself. That is the most difficult part in this whole pandemic. You want to go closer to them. You want to comfort them but you also realize that if you stay too long you are exposing yourself more and more,” she added.

  “How long can I go on fearing being contaminated in the next five minutes?” Dr. Utpat, said noting that this was a strong motivating factor in her desire to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

  “The world needs to continue. There is no way out of this and I am not going to quit. I need to work and I need to have the protection and the confidence that I am protected so I can continue to work,” she added.

  “I have a wonderful husband and family who have been very supportive and I remember the first few months of that kind of fear. Even today no one sits in my car. If my kids have to go somewhere, they go in my husband’s car. We didn’t know how much of the virus could be in my car. We still have the routine where I go into the garage, the clothes go into the laundry and I go straight into the shower and no one comes within six feet of me,” the doctor said.

  For her 50th birthday she said friends and family drove by her home honking their horns in celebration. None of her children went to graduation parties and she knew she could not visit her niece who gave birth this year. “When my mother passed away, I could not go to India.”

  “I wanted to see an end in sight and the end wasn’t coming. Now it is time to do something different and now that the vaccine is here and there is nothing else, what can the option be? Let’s get vaccinated and protect ourselves,” Dr. Utpat said.