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‘I’m so excited, I’m like shaking’: Austin health care workers receive first Covid-19 vaccines

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Esmeralda Torres’ eyes lit up above her mask as she talked about the Covid-19 vaccine she’d gotten in her right arm Tuesday morning.

“I’m so excited, I’m like shaking,” she said. “I’m so happy.”

Torres, a medical assistant at UT Health Austin’s Musculoskeletal Institute, was one of the first people in Austin to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday morning, front-line health care workers stood 6 feet apart on designated orange squares placed on the floor inside the Dell Medical School’s Health Discovery building downtown. They waited anxiously, some said, to receive the first of 2,295 Covid-19 vaccines UT Health Austin has been given to administer. By the end of the day today, 325 people are expected to be inoculated with the first of two doses.

For Torres, whose grandmother contracted Covid-19 and spent a month on a ventilator this summer, getting the vaccine felt like a relief.

“Having my family exposed, being exposed myself, I finally have a way to really protect myself,” Torres said.

Oliver Fannin, an ER doctor at Dell Seton Medical Center, receives the vaccine.

As the first vials of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine made their way around the country, UT’s Dell Medical School received a shipment Monday, becoming the first health care institution in Central Texas to do so. And within 24 hours, just past 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the first people got their shots.

“It’s just a really exciting next step in our war against Covid,” said Dr. Amy Young, chief clinical officer at UT Health Austin.

While she received the first of two doses of the vaccine Tuesday, she cautioned people to stay vigilant.

“We need to continue to mask and wash our hands and stay 6 feet apart as we go through this particular process,” she said. “But I think it’s made us all very hopeful about the future.”

Austin Public Health’s interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott has said it will take time for Travis County to receive enough doses of the vaccine to inoculate everyone who wants it. Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases in the area have continued to rise, with the public health authority suggesting a curfew could be put in place as early as this week if the county enters Stage 5 of its risk-based guidelines, the highest level of risk.

On Monday, the county reported 415 new cases, roughly double the number of daily cases reported in September.

After getting the shot, which Torres said “didn’t hurt at all,” recipients of the vaccine were given a small card indicating they’d received the first dose and should come back next month to get a second.

Dr. Maria Ochi, an internal medicine resident at Dell Seton Medical Center, said treating Covid-19 patients for the past nine months has been exhausting, but getting the vaccine feels like an injection of hope.

“It is something that we didn’t think would happen this soon,” Ochi said. “It at least gives us a light at the end of the tunnel.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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