Health care workers across the United States were among the first Americans to get the federally approved coronavirus vaccine Monday, marking a critical moment in the fight against Covid-19.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to be used for emergency use Friday as the country is still deep in the pandemic, with case numbers rising around the country. The virus has killed more than 300,000 people and infected more than 16.3 million in the U.S. alone.
Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic are one of the groups prioritized to receive the first doses of the vaccine. Several of them said Monday that they were hopeful that the day marked a turning point and described the emotional toll of treating patients affected by the virus.
Dr. Gregory Schmidt
Schmidt, an intensive care physician with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, was among those to get the vaccine Monday.
"The emotional power of this moment is something that we have been anticipating, striving to reach for about 10 months," he said. "To be able to take this step feels like a piece of what we all need to do to make our world safe again, to get back to the life where we can see each other's faces."
Schmidt, who is also the associate chief medical officer of critical care in the hospital system, said about 75 percent of the patients he has treated in the intensive care unit for months have been coronavirus patients. He and his staff have had to watch many of them die from the virus.
"I feel, in a very personal way, the risk to me. I feel the personal risk to my family," said Schmidt, the father of three children.
Schmidt said he almost burst into tears as he arrived Monday knowing the vaccine was "so close."
He said his message to the public would be: "Trust the science. This vaccine has been developed with care, and it's been tested extensively."
Schmidt said that he was feeling well following the shot and that he was looking forward to taking a bike ride in the snow and to letting the vaccine "do its thing."
Dr. Mark Conroy
Conroy, an emergency medicine physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also got the shot Monday.
"The whole experience was really incredible. From the moment I got up in the morning, I was excited about the potential of getting the vaccine," he said. "This is a great step forward in the treatment and caring for and kind of getting over this pandemic."
Conroy said it has been exhausting for him and his staff as they saw the effects of the virus on their patients for so many months.
"It's been a stressful year. I think the anxiety associated with caring for Covid patients, the potential to infect yourself or the potential to bring something home and infect my family, has been on my mind since day one," said Conroy, who is also the medical director of the hospital's emergency department.
Conroy said the decision to take the vaccine is "something we should all consider for ourselves."
"I wanted to show myself as a member of our community that I was interested in it, and I think it's important for everyone to take this step, because this is really the best way to cut down on infection rates, to keep people safe and hopefully, at some point, eventually end this pandemic," said Conroy, who has three young children.
Conroy said that the experience was no different from a typical vaccination and that he was feeling well and was looking forward to going home and playing with his children.
"I'm honored to be a part of this, and I'm proud to have had the opportunity," he said.
Dr. Marc McClelland and Yvette Kamana
McClelland and Kamana were among the health care workers at Spectrum Health to get the shots in Michigan. McClelland is a pulmonary medicine physician, and Kamana is a registered nurse.
"This is super exciting. I feel unbelievably grateful," McClelland said at a video news conference Monday afternoon with Kamana. "Quite honestly, I feel hopeful. Hopefully, this is the start of the next chapter."
Kamana said treating coronavirus patients "has been trying for me as a health care worker."
"We've lost quite a lot of patients, and we see a lot of patients that are critically ill. It's taken a toll," she said.
"It's very exciting, and I consider it a blessing to be one of the people to get a vaccine," she said.
McClelland said that he would encourage people to talk to their doctors and that he was encouraging "my family and friends to get the vaccine."
"It's a wonderful opportunity," he said.
Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough of Queens, was the first person in the state to get vaccinated.
"I feel hopeful today, relieved," she said, joining the audience in applause after she got her first dose.
Lindsay said that the experience was no different from taking other vaccines and that she wanted to thank all the other front-line workers.
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"I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history," she said.
"I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe," she added. "We're in a pandemic, and so we all need to do our part."
"There's light at the end of the tunnel," she said.