'There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel'

Rush hospitals administer first COVID-19 vaccines to staff
Rush Oak Park physician gets COVID-19 vaccine

In a year defined by tragedy, something powerful arrived across the Rush University System for Health this week: Hope. Starting Wednesday, frontline health care personnel across the System began receiving vaccinations for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Rush Copley Medical Center was the first Rush system hospital to receive the first dose of the two-step Pfizer vaccine, with Rush Oak Park Hospital getting the precious vials on Friday. Rush University Medical Center began vaccinating Thursday in the Edward A. Brennan Entry Pavilion, which was partially transformed into a staff vaccination clinic.

Amid cheers and applause, 10 staff members received the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as Rush University Medical Center began its vaccinations on Thursday, Dec. 17. This emotional moment kicked off the beginning of a massive vaccination effort of Medical Center health care personnel — including about 450 people that first evening, with more than 800 following on Friday. 

“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to,” said Dr. Omar Lateef, CEO of Rush University Medical Center, as he spoke to the small crowd shortly before vaccinations began. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and you were the light every day.”

Watch the video: "Vaccine Day"

See photos and video of the historic moment in a gallery on Flickr. 

See the celebration of the first Rush vaccinations at Rush Copley Medical Center

Rush Copley staff’s hope-filled reactions were captured in the Chicago Tribune, while Rush University Medical Center hosted television stations from across Chicago, including WTTW. The arrival of vaccines at Rush Oak Park Hospital and the first staff members receiving their shots on the hospital’s Facebook feed this morning.

The first 10 vaccines at Rush University Medical Center were given simultaneously to staff members who work closely with COVID-19 patients. They were identified as belonging in the first group based on Chicago Department of Public Health guidelines for distribution of the vaccine to health care workers.

The following were the first 10 staff members to receive vaccines:

  • Valencia Auterberry, Environmental Services
  • Robert Balk, MD, director, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine; and associate chief medical officer for critical care
  • Courtney Crocker, BSN, CCRN, RN2, Adult Intensive Care Unit
  • Mikki Denson, RN, Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit
  • Melissa Gerona, BSN, RN, CMSRN, RN3, COVID-19 Unit
  • Lewis Jordan, MD, diagnostic radiology resident physician
  • Anna King, RN2, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit
  • William Kneitz, RN2, Emergency Room
  • Erik McIntosh, DNP, RN, ACNP-BC, nurse practitioner, Internal Medicine
  • Ankeet Patel, MSc, RRT-ACCS, clinical manager, Adult Care Section, Respiratory Therapy

The group reflected the variety of roles of health care professionals who have been affected by COVID-19. Many of the staff members talked about the hope the vaccine offers for the future.

“I’m optimistic for the first time in a very long time,” Lewis said after receiving his vaccine.

Auterberry is also hopeful and is working to get out the word about the vaccine’s value.

“If you haven’t experienced COVID, you want this vaccine,” Auterberry said. “I have seen people deal with COVID every day, and it’s nothing nice. I recommend that you get the vaccine.”

At Rush Oak Park, staff members are looking forward to a future where time can be spent with family in-person.

"This gets me one step closer to spending time with my 90-year-old grandmother," said Phil Traylor, MD, an anesthesiologist and one of the first Rush Oak Park Hospital employees to receive the vaccine. “I've seen what COVID can do, and it comes down to choosing between life and death. I choose life."

"It's a good day," said Colleen Calhoun, RN, another of the first at Rush Oak Park to receive the vaccine. "We're taking control back from this terrible virus."

For frontline staff, this first dose of vaccine has felt like a long time coming and knowing that this vaccine can help protect them and the community they serve is comforting.

“It’s been a long journey taking care of COVID patients,” said Patel. “I hope the rest of my colleagues get it and it will help us take care of our patients.”

“I am feeling honored and very excited for our future,” said Marsha Helland, RN, BSN, an intensive care unit nurse and the first staff member at Rush Copley to receive the vaccine. “This is the beginning to end of COVID-19.”

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