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UMass Memorial providers receive first COVID shots at UMass Chan

Recipients see hope for ‘beginning of the end’ of pandemic

The word on everyone’s lips was “excited” as the first UMass Memorial Medical Center University Campus health care providers rolled up their sleeves Dec. 17 to receive their inoculation with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. They will return in three weeks for their second dose.

Leading the line in the UMass Medical School lobby at 11 a.m. was Fredrik Oestberg, RN, MSN, nurse education safety specialist for the medical intensive care unit at UMass Memorial University Campus. He didn’t flinch, barely noticing the needle prick as a nurse injected the vaccine.

“I’ve been around COVID for the last nine months as educator for the COVID ICU here,” he said. “Hopefully, this will be the beginning of the end of this for all of us.”

Maureen Canellas, MD, a fellow in administrative leadership in the Department of Emergency Medicine, said the snowstorm that piled more than a foot of snow on Worcester since the previous night wasn’t an obstacle.

“In the ER, we come rain or shine and the snowstorm, 100 percent, wasn’t going to keep me from coming here for this,” she said.

Dr. Canellas teared up as spoke of what she personally had missed over the past year because of the COVID pandemic: being able to visit her grandfather when he died in hospice; having her wedding; and seeing family.

“It means so much to think that this could get us out of this and get people back to their normal lives,” Canellas said. “And to save so many lives that were needlessly lost.”

Andrew Dowd, MD, an emergency ultrasound fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine and a 2017 graduate of the School of Medicine, said he got the vaccine, first, to protect his family.

“I wanted to make sure that when I’m taking care of COVID patients in the emergency room, which I do every single day, every single shift, that I am as protected as I can be,” he said.

Dr. Dowd also wanted to show the community that scientists and physicians on the frontline have faith in the vaccine and in the studies that have taken place so far. He said, “I thought it was very important to put my money where my mouth is and show that I’ve looked at the data and I have zero reservations about getting the shot.”

Even though he’s been vaccinated, Dowd stressed that wearing a mask will still be important for a while.

“We don’t know the duration of the effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said. “Also, what the vaccine does is it prevents you from becoming ill from COVID-19. It doesn’t prevent COVID-19 from entering your body.” Theoretically, someone could still asymptomatically transmit the SARS-C0V-2 virus to another person.

Mireya Wessolossky, MD, associate professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist, said she felt “fantastic” after receiving her shot and applauded the mRNA technology that allowed for the rapid development of a safe and effective vaccine.

“Seeing COVID firsthand, I still think the vaccine is one of the best things we could have done,” Dr. Wessolossky said.

As a physician, Wessolossky said she hoped she could set an example for the community and correct any misinformation that might make people hesitate to take the vaccine. Even the few reported cases of allergic reactions or more common temporary aches and pains were “nothing compared to the body ache you may feel for two weeks with the real thing.”

“I’m hoping that people will see the excitement of health care workers and their enthusiasm for getting the vaccine as a signal that this is something that people really should be doing,” said Kavita Babu, MD, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Division of Toxicology.

Related links on UMassMed News:
COVID vaccines arrive in Worcester; health care providers, staff first to be inoculated
Robert Finberg details next steps for COVID vaccine
Keeping the workplace safe: UMMS infection control officer forges COVID response