Frontline healthcare workers at RI Hospital receive state’s first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The first doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine have finally been injected in Rhode Island.  Lifespan gave its first vaccinations Monday afternoon on the Rhode Island Hospital Campus.

The first doses are going to the highest risk employees in the healthcare sector.  Lifespan is among the first in the nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine, accepting about 2,000 doses early Monday. Another 1,000 doses are expected Tuesday.

“I am filled with adrenaline and happiness and I’m thankful,” said Dr. Christian Arbelaez, the first to receive the vaccine in the state.

Dr. Arbelaez, an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital was first up, followed by Fernando Pires, a 24-year veteran of the emergency department who works in housekeeping. Then it was frontline worker after frontline worker.

While getting his vaccine Dr. Arbelaez said he let out a sigh of relief.

“It was a combination of being present in that moment and taking it in, this historic day, and I think also, you know, exhaling the almost year-long battle that we’ve been fighting. It’s been exhausting,” he said. “We put our heads down, we walk into our shifts, 9, 10, 11 hours, we walk out and then you come back the next day. So it’s nice to come up for air to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He said he was proud to be the first, and found out that morning that he would be. He said he feels like he needed to get the vaccine not only to keep himself and his family safe, but to act as a role model for other healthcare workers and people in the community.

“As a Latino doctor, I have to role model and message to those communities how important it is for communities of color to get vaccinated. And that’s why I’m here, that’s why I got the vaccine, that’s why I’m first.”

ICU nurse Julia Alves said she felt as though a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders.

“It’s been tough, very, very tough to see everybody tubed, not doing well, no family, nobody to visit them. Just kind of sad and depressing.”

She said she understands why some are apprehensive, but she hopes everyone will get the vaccine.

“I don’t want to keep seeing people dying every day like we have been. Especially by themselves,” Alves said.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, with the second being given within 21 days of the first.

Tomorrow Lifespan will hold vaccination clinics for its highest-risk employees at The Miriam Hospital and Newport Hospital and on Wednesday at Bradley Hospital.  Lifespan hopes to have all employees vaccinated over the next several months.

Vaccinations in Rhode Island will come in three phases, with healthcare workers and the most at risk to receive their injections in phase one.  Phase two will include educators, critical workers, those in homeless shelters, the incarcerated and facility staff, and all older adults.  Phase three will include everyone else.

Rhode Island’s other hospital giant, Care New England, is set to receive its vaccine shipment Tuesday morning. The hospital system is expecting 10,000 doses to be delivered to Women & Infants Hospital.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island