Audrey Roberson reacts after receiving the coronavirus vaccine from Veronica Nolden.
Audrey Roberson reacts after receiving the coronavirus vaccine from Veronica Nolden. Roberson was the first front-line medical worker at Virginia Commonwealth University to get the Pfizer vaccine. (Kevin Morley, University Relations)

COVID-19 vaccinations begin at VCU Health

Front-line health care workers are the first to receive the vaccine.

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VCU Medical Center began COVID-19 vaccinations of its first front-line team members Wednesday afternoon. Seven people volunteered to be the first to receive the new vaccine. They will provide testimonials and regular public check-ins to document how they are doing on their vaccination journey.

“All of these individuals are leaders in their fields, and they stepped up to not only benefit from the vaccine, but to send a message to their teammates, to the university and the commonwealth about the value of vaccination,” said Art Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for health sciences at VCU and CEO of VCU Health System.

While the new vaccine offers a ray of hope, Virginians must continue their vigilance for the next few months, said Gov. Ralph Northam, who attended the first vaccinations.

“[We] need to continue for the next few months to wear our facial protection, to wash our hands. ... We know scientifically that these things work,” he said. “There is an order to how we're going to do this. We've planned for this for several months. We're starting with phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3. Hopefully over the next several months, all Virginians will have access to the vaccination, and we can finally put the pandemic behind us.”

VCU Health is committed to an equitable distribution of the vaccine, beginning with its front-line health care workers.

“These are our colleagues who have, at great personal sacrifice throughout this entire lengthy pandemic, courageously and so unselfishly provided incredible care, compassionate care for our patients from across the commonwealth and well beyond that,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System.

Audrey R. Roberson, Ph.D., nurse manager of the medical respiratory intensive care unit, became the first person to receive the vaccine at 12:21 p.m.

“Knowing what we've been through and knowing what we've done for the last 10 months here in the state of Virginia and here at VCU Health, having this vaccine and this opportunity was one that I was not going to allow to pass,” she said. “I was doing this for my family and for my team.”

First COVID-19 vaccinations at VCU Health

Robert Winn, M.D., director of VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, added: “This day is about the opportunity to take care of one another. I am standing here to take the vaccine, not for myself but for my 93-year-old grandmother and everyone else in Virginia. Today is the day we start recovering our health.”

Other team members to receive the vaccination were:

- Ronald Leeper, a member of VCU Health’s COVID-19 clean team

- Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., infectious disease expert at VCU Health and chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases

- Stacy Coleman, nurse manager of the transitional care unit of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Brook Road Campus

- Joel Moll, M.D., emergency medicine physician and director of the emergency medicine residency program

- Lisa Brath, M.D., medical director of respiratory care and the unique pathogens unit at VCU Medical Center, also received the vaccine today. Brath routinely takes care of COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory issues.

“Although it may seem an individual person can’t make that much of an impact on something so overwhelming [like COVID-19], we can make a difference,” Brath said. “Like a Japanese poem reminds us, ‘Individually, we are a drop. Together, we are an ocean.’”

This article originally appeared on the VCU Health website under the headline VCU Medical Center begins COVID-19 vaccinations for front-line workers.