The first shots: Frontline health care workers receive historic COVID-19 vaccine (video)

UC Davis among first health systems in nation to receive initial allotment of Pfizer vaccine

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UC Davis Health has begun inoculating its frontline health care workers against novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Eva Teniola, a clinical nurse in the emergency department, was the first person at the UC Davis Medical Center to receive the historic coronavirus 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 the moment she learned the COVID-19 vaccine was available. “I’d rather get the vaccine before COVID gets me,” she explained. When others in the room called her a hero, she said “The vaccine is the real hero!”

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Emergency department clinical nurse Eva Teniola celebrates after receiving the first shot at UC Davis Medical Center

A total of 4,875 vaccine doses arrived at the medical center loading dock shortly after 7 Tuesday morning and the first shots were administered about three hours later. The coronavirus vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart.

The vaccine was packed in dry ice and shipped from a Pfizer distribution center after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for emergency use on Friday night. The vials will be stored in a sub-zero freezer. They’ll need to be thawed and mixed with saline for use.

“This is just like a lifeline,” said Shashi Kant, 65, an ICU and emergency department custodian who’s worked at UC Davis Health for 28 years. 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. Of the vaccine, he noted, “the whole world prayed for it.”

Today marked the beginning of a major effort to inoculate UC Davis Health employees as quickly as possible. Dozens received their first dose today.

"This is truly the beginning of the end of the war on the pandemic. And now we have the tools to win this war and to save lives."

— David Lubarsky

Emergency department employees are the first group to be inoculated. They include staff who clean rooms, food service workers, reception staff who greet patients and those who provide direct patient care such as doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists.

UC Davis Health developed priority tiers to ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably among employees who wish to be inoculated. They’re 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.

“This is truly the beginning of the end of the war on the pandemic, said David Lubarsky, CEO of the health system. “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,” he said.

UC Davis Health is among a group of hospitals and public health agencies in California receiving this first allotment. All were selected by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) for 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 CDPH estimates that vaccination for the general public could begin in the Spring.  

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are removed from cold storage to be thawed for use on Dec. 15, 2020 at UC Davis Health.

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 the future.

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

At the medical center, an auditorium has been turned into a vaccine clinic with seven stations. As the first shots were given, a few employees who came to observe the historic event teared up, and the excitement in the air was palpable. 

“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 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, who’s 54, is eagerly anticipating a post-COVID world, thanks to the vaccine.

“I’m most looking forward to going out, being around people and being able to hug them.”

UC Davis and UC Davis Health have been national leaders in diagnosing, treating and researching the coronavirus. UC Davis Health is one of just 150 sites worldwide that is participating in the clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine that is now available for tier one health care workers. More than 40,000 participants are included in the study, including 225 at UC Davis Health.

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