NORFOLK, Va. - Healthcare workers in Virginia started receiving the state's first doses of a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, kicking off what is likely to be a months long process of inoculating people from the potentially deadly disease.
Nurse Practitioner and Chief Quality Officer Cassie Lewis was the first to receive the shot in the Bon Secours Health System.
"A little daunting at first, just because the excitement and the buildup has been so much, but honestly, really exciting. I was glad to be the first," said Lewis. "Being able to get it and have a lot of my colleagues who are nurses that were down there with us. When I was able to get it and they were right behind me getting it, it was really exciting. And I think all of us are just thrilled that it's finally here and that we're able to start moving this along as quickly as we can."
Lewis not only led the planning effort in the Bon Secours system for the vaccine's arrival and distribution, but has also been working on the front line treating COVID-19 patients.
"Everybody is tired -- mentally, physically, emotionally. We've seen some really hard things in the last several months. We've witnessed a lot of our patients who have not made it," said Lewis. "The burnout is real and, I think, this vaccine finally is giving them something to have hope about -- that there is light at the end of the tunnel finally. Because, it's been a long nine months for all of us."
The Ballad Health system broadcast live video of registered nurse Emily Boucher getting her first shot in an area of southwestern Virginia.
“I will never stop trying to convince everyone about the reality of COVID-19,” Boucher said before pulling up her left sleeve at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon.
Boucher works in the hospital's COVID-19 intensive care unit. She spoke of patients “who are alone and lonely and scared” and the healthcare workers who sometimes hold up phones to patients' ears “so they can hear a familiar voice.”
Several health care workers at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in the eastern part of the state also received injections.
“My heart really goes out to our frontline health care workers, those that have come in every day," said Gov. Ralph Northam, who attended the event in Norfolk.
In total, 18 healthcare systems around the Commonwealth received a portion of Virginia's first shipment of over 72,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Healthcare workers and long-term care facilities, a group known as Phase 1a, will be the first to receive the vaccine. As there are an estimated 500,000 people in that group, healthcare workers who work directly with COVID-19 cases are at the front of the line.
Virginia health officials expect to receive 480,000 doses by the end of the year from a combination of Pfizer and Moderna.