Robert Luckey, a COVID ICU registered nurse at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, got the region’s first coronavirus vaccine today.
“It’s momentous for this country,” he said of both the vaccination being developed and of being the first in the region to receive it. “This is honestly the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Staff applauded as the vaccine was injected into Luckey’s upper left arm.
Doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are being administered at Houston hospitals Tuesday morning.
A shipment of nearly 6,000 doses of the vaccine arrived at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical around 9:30 a.m. Less than an hour later, a group of five staff members were vaccinated, including Luckey.
Only front-line medical staff associated with the hospital will receive the first doses of the vaccine per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration guidelines. That group includes physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and cleaning staff, among other positions that require face-to-face interaction with patients.
The hospital is capable of administering about 1,800 doses of the vaccine each day, said James McCarthy, Memorial Hermann Health System’s chief physician executive. The total first allocation will include 16,575 doses. The remainder is expected to arrive by the end of the week.
After 21 days, those who receive the Pfizer vaccine must get a booster shot. The hospital has been guaranteed it will receive boosters for each first-round dose that is administered.
“Today is truly a remarkable day full of optimism for the near future,” Dr. David Callender, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann, said in a statement.
“We’re all very hopeful that this will be the turning point we’ve been waiting for since this pandemic began. However, now is not the time to let our guard down,” Callender said. “Our fight with COVID-19 is not over yet, but at least there is finally an end in sight.”
Luckey, 39, has lived in Houston for nine years. The registered nurse said he entered healthcare after serving as a U.S. Marine so he could care for people during the most vulnerable times in their lives.
Since the pandemic began, Luckey has been working in the hospital’s COVID unit caring for sick people who can’t be with their families.
“We’re not just caring for the patients,” he said. “We’re caring for the whole family.”
Those who get the vaccine can’t go back to living life the way it was before the pandemic, at least not yet, said McCarthy. They will still be expected to wear masks, socially distance and practice frequent hand washing and sanitizing.
“We know that the vaccine prevents you from getting symptoms of COVID and severe illness, but we also know that people who’ve had the vaccine can still get the virus but never develop symptoms, so they could give it to someone else,” McCarthy said.
Until a majority of the general population is vaccinated, the front-line workers will have to keep taking the same precautions, he added.
Other shipments of the Pfizer vaccine were scheduled to arrive Tuesday at Houston Methodist, CHI St. Luke’s systems, Harris Health’s Ben Taub and LBJ hospitals, and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s Sealy Hospital.
MD Anderson was the first Houston hospital to receive the vaccine, with 4,875 doses arriving early Monday morning.
By the middle of the week, 27 Houston-area hospitals will have received shipments of the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine was almost 95 percent effective at preventing patients from contracting to COVID-19 and caused no major side effects in a trial of nearly 44,000 people.
The vaccine comes after nine months of the pandemic, which has killed 300,000 people in the United States and 24,000 in Texas.
Luckey said he trusts the vaccine’s safety and efficacy because it was rigorously vetted by the CDC and the FDA.
The nurse said he got the vaccine not just for himself, but for the greater good.
“This is about protecting the next person as well,” he said. “We as a whole need to do this.”