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‘Monumental Day’ at UC Davis Health Frontline Staff First to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

By Marianne Russ Sharp on December 15, 2020 in Human & Animal Health

Quick Summary

  • 4,875 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, packed in dry ice, arrive just after 7 a.m.
  • CEO Lubarsky: “This is truly the beginning of the end of the war on the pandemic”
  • State health officials say vaccinations for general public could begin in the spring

UC Davis Health today (Dec. 15) began inoculating its frontline health care workers against COVID-19, just hours after the vaccine arrived.

Eva Teniola, a clinical nurse in the emergency department, was the first person at the UC Davis Medical Center to receive the historic vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“See, we did it,” she exclaimed, throwing her arms wide with joy after her injection, as other employees broke out into applause around her. The 47-year-old said she signed up to get the vaccine the moment she learned it was going to be available.

“I’d rather get the vaccine before COVID gets me,” she said. When others in the room called her a hero, she said, “The vaccine is the real hero!”

UC Davis Health quickly shared the news on Facebook: “It has been a monumental day as we received our first shipment of the #COVID19 vaccine and administered it to the first group of frontline workers. We received 4,875 doses of the vaccine. Nurse Heather Donaldson administered the first COVID-19 vaccination at UC Davis Health to UC Davis Department of Emergency Medicine nurse Eva Teniola. ‘I have been waiting for this day,’ she said.” See the post and more photos.

Personal and emotional

Packed in dry ice, the shipment of 4,875 doses from a Pfizer distribution center arrived at the UC Davis Medical Center’s loading dock shortly after 7 a.m., and the vaccinations began about three hours later with vaccine removed from subzero-temperature storage, thawed and mixed with saline.

“This is just like a lifeline,” said 65-year-old Shashi Kant, a 28-year custodian who works in the intensive care unit and the emergency department. For him, it was a personal and emotional decision. His 36-year-old daughter died three months ago from COVID-19.

“I’m protecting myself and the patients,” he said. “The whole world prayed for [the vaccine].”

The vaccine contains genetic material — messenger RNA — that directs the body to create antibodies to the virus, providing protection if a person is exposed to the coronavirus in the future. UC Davis Health is among 150 sites worldwide that joined with Pfizer-BioNTech in the vaccine’s clinical trial — a study that enrolled more than 40,000 people worldwide, including 225 at UC Davis Health.

Woman in lab coat removes tray from freezer.Pharmacist Erin St. Angelo removes a supply of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from subzero freezer. (Wayne Tilcock/UC Davis)
Man in scrubs pushes cart holding a cooler.Pharmacy technician Joel Miyake transfers a cooler with vaccine inside, from the main pharmacy to the vaccination site.

Winning the war

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted approval last Friday (Dec. 11) for the vaccine’s emergency use. “This is truly the beginning of the end of the war on the pandemic,” UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky said today. “And now we have the tools to win this war and to save lives. We are ready to lead the way out of the pandemic.”

Dozens of UC Davis Health employees received the first of their two doses — the second is due in 21 days — as the health system embarked on a major effort to inoculate employees as quickly as possible. Emergency department personnel comprise the first group, including doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists who provide direct care to patients, as well as reception, food service and cleaning staff.

UC Davis Health has developed priority tiers to ensure the equitable distribution among employees who wish to be inoculated. The tiers are based on the risk of COVID-19 infection while on the job. The health system expects to inoculate about 400 employees a day, and eventually, as many as 1,000 as other vaccines become available.

Wider distribution

The California Department of Health directed early allotments of the vaccine to UC Davis Health and six other institutions up and down the state based on their storage capability, highest-risk health care population and ability to distribute vaccine in the community when it becomes widely available. 

As vaccines from other manufacturers arrive, UC Davis Medical Center will continue to inoculate employees based on the tier system and risk level. The state Department of Public Health estimates that vaccinations for the general public could begin in the spring. 

UC Davis Health has ample subzero-temperature storage for this first allotment. With additional freezers expected to be delivered in the coming weeks, UC Davis Health could potentially store nearly a half-million doses of the  vaccine at a time. 

Excitement in the air

Nurse fills syringe.
Nurse Reanne Takara fills syringe with COVID-19 vaccine. (Wayne Tilcock/UC Davis)

In an auditorium converted into a vaccine clinic with seven stations, the first shots prompted tears among some of the employees who had come to observe. The excitement was palpable in the air..

“It feels like there’s possibly an end to what’s been going on and I feel very brave doing this and helping other people,” said Jen Shergill, a respiratory therapist who works with COVID-19 patients and received her first dose of the vaccine today.

“Just be brave and get the vaccine. You’re protecting yourself. You’re protecting your family and friends and you’re protecting the community.”

Shergill, 54, is eagerly anticipating a post-COVID-19 world, thanks to the vaccine. “I’m most looking forward to going out, being around people and being able to hug them.”

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About the author(s)

Marianne Russ Sharp Marianne Russ Sharp is a public information representative at UC Davis Health covering the MIND Institute.

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