PROVIDENCE – Dr. Christian Arbelaez, attending physician and vice chair of academic affairs, emergency medicine at Rhode Island Hospital, was the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Rhode Island on Monday.
“I am filled with adrenaline and happiness,” Arbelaez told reporters a few minutes later. “And I am thankful for what our scientists have done.”
“I’m excited for all of us to be able to return back to a normal life and see our loved ones,” Arbelaez said. “It’s hard for us not to be able to be with people we care about and it’s hard to take care of people who are dying.”
Lifespan rapidly began administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk front-line health care workers Monday after receiving about 1,950 doses, the organization said Monday.
Rhode Island Hospital and Newport Hospital are the first two hospitals to receive the vaccine. Another 975 doses are expected Tuesday, and all hospitals will have 10,750 doses by the end of the week, according to Lifespan.
“Lifespan is grateful for this allocation of the first coronavirus vaccine to help protect high-risk health care workers who are needed to treat our patients,” Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy J. Babineau said in a prepared statement. “We are ready to quickly distribute the vaccine and after long months of battling this pandemic, we have powerful reasons for optimism that the end is in sight.”
Jane Bruno, a spokeswoman for Lifespan, said the vaccine shipment arrived by FedEx several hours ahead of schedule Monday morning. She said the first dose is expected to be administered around 1 p.m. at the Gerry House at Rhode Island Hospital.
Shortly after Lifespan received the shipment, the Rhode Island COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee voted to recommend that hospitals begin vaccinating front-line hospital workers. Arbelaez was vaccinated just after 1 p.m., followed by Fernando M. Pires, a maintenance worker who has been with Rhode Island Hospital for 24 years. Lifespan is focused on inoculating health care providers and hospital staff who have direct contact with COVID-positive patients or COVID-positive infectious fluids or materials.
“As a health care system, we know that the way to fight this pandemic is on two fronts,” Babineau said in a statement. “The first is to effectively and expertly treat patients with COVID-19. We are already doing that every day. The second is to prevent people from contracting this dangerous disease in the first place. With this vaccine, which studies have shown to be safe and 94 percent effective, our health care system and workers can help play a vital role in conquering COVID-19.”
The approximately 3,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed equally between the hospitals in Lifespan’s network, officials said. Vaccines were administered at Rhode Island Hospital on Monday; on Tuesday the Miriam Hospital and Newport Hospital will hold clinics for employees, while workers at Bradley Hospital will be vaccinated on Wednesday. All recipients of the vaccine will need to return for a second dose in three weeks.
The state’s Health Department director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who announced over the weekend that she has tested positive for COVID-19, said Rhode Island is receiving one of the “most effective vaccines ever developed.”
“In the coming weeks and months, as vaccine becomes more available, getting vaccinated will be one of the most powerful things you can do to keep yourself and the people you love safe from COVID-19,” Alexander-Scott said. “We are going to work to ensure that every person in every community in Rhode Island has access to the vaccine, especially those communities hardest hit by this virus.”
Dan McGowan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.