'One of the most joyful places': IU Health clinic delivers its 100,000th vaccine dose

Shari Rudavsky
Indianapolis Star

Raynell Freeman was an unlikely recipient of IU Health's 100,000 vaccine dose Thursday, since initially the 73-year-old was unsure she trusted the coronavirus vaccine. 

As a Black woman, she had grown up hearing stories about the Tuskegee experiment, in which the U.S. government provided placebos instead of treatment for syphilis to Black men, and other instances in which the medical community mistreated Black people.

On the other hand, her 76-year-old husband Joe is a dialysis patient. And she wants to see her grandchildren and her daughter, a cancer survivor, and other family members.

“I was kind of skeptical,” she said, “one day I sat down and prayed on it.”

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The next morning she woke up and had her answer.

“The Holy Spirit came over my body, said it would be okay, and my fear of getting it had left,” Freeman said.

Thursday morning, an IU Health physician assistant delivered the healthcare system’s milestone vaccine dose into Freeman’s waiting arm.

Originally IU Health had planned a spontaneous celebration at Freeman’s noon appointment but the Lawrence couple arrived about half an hour early and received their shots without any fanfare.

Then, just as the Freemans were preparing to leave, a staff member invited them back into the vaccination clinic to bask in the moment.

Raynell Freeman.

Holding an envelope containing a card of thanks, Freeman folded the paper, joking, “the keys are not in here” and remarking in astonishment as a staffer wheeled in a large sheet cake festooned with red roses and the words “Congratulations 100,000th Vaccine.”

But the levity was soon replaced by a more subdued moment as Vern Farnum, an IU Health Methodist chaplain, offered a prayer of thanks. Overwhelmed by the moment, Freeman teared up slightly.

“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness,” Freeman said, repeatedly. 

IU Health’s 100,000th dose came on the day that the state crossed the half million mark for number of first doses delivered. More than 122,000 people in Indiana have received both doses, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard.

Currently only healthcare workers, first responders and those over the age of 70 are eligible for vaccine.

About 25,000 have received both vaccine doses at IU Health

In all, IU Health has vaccinated about 75,000 people and 25,000 have received both doses of the two-shot series through the healthcare system.

The Methodist vaccination clinic, located at the IU Health Neuroscience, delivers about 1,150 vaccines a day, said Mary Kay Foster, special pathogens program manager who oversees the IU Health clinic.

Many people have shed tears upon receiving their vaccine, Foster said, tears of joy and relief that an end is in sight for month of pandemic life.

“This is probably one of the most joyful places in the state to come to every single day,” she said.

Couples often come together for the shot, she said. One couple arrived wearing matching corsages.

While the state has reported a handful of people experiencing adverse reactions after the shot, the worst reaction at the Methodist site has been hives, Foster said.

Eligibility is currently limited but that has not stopped some people showing up hopeful that they can be the exception.

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“We have people that are desperate. They come in with their stories,” Foster said. “We have to say I’m sorry, you just don’t qualify at this time. It’s a dagger to my heart.”

Between 60 to 80 people a day, most of them volunteers, are required to staff the clinic. One of those volunteers, Dr. Karen Bumb, a retired anesthesiologist, said there’s nothing else she’d rather do with her free time.

At the start of the pandemic, she signed up with the state department of health as a volunteer, but her services were never needed.        

When she heard about the vaccine clinic, she offered to help out. She now spends at least some time three days a week in the clinic.

Raynell Freeman, 73, Indianapolis, shows off a card at IU Health Neuroscience Center, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

“It’s the most worthwhile thing I have done since I retired,” she said. “I have never been anywhere people are so excited to be stuck with a needle.”

Since the start of the month, when she started volunteering, she alone has vaccinated about 560 people.

The past 10 months have been long ones for the Freemans, who have been mostly homebound in an effort to avoid being infected with the coronavirus.

"It's depressing," said Freeman, "I tear up when I think about it."

But with their second vaccines scheduled for mid-February, the Freemans can begin to think about returning to life before the pandemic. The first thing that Raynell said she will do when fully vaccinated? Return to her beloved Eastern Star Baptist Church in person.                    

Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at shari.rudavsky@indystar.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.