“Light at the End of the Tunnel”: COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives at NewYork-Presbyterian

The first group of front-line workers across the hospital's campuses receive their first dose.

NYP staffers holding signs after getting the COVID-19 vaccine

On December 15, nearly 300 days after NewYork-Presbyterian diagnosed its first COVID-19 patient, healthcare workers across the hospital’s campuses celebrated a momentous day. That morning, boxes carrying the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived.

The tiny vials not only represented an extraordinary scientific achievement — they carried hope. “It’s been a really long road and to finally see that light at the end of the tunnel, it feels like that breath of air we’ve all been waiting for,” says Regan Nicewander, a cardiothoracic ICU nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

The first staffers to receive the vaccine work in the intensive care units and emergency departments, the very workers who saw the influx of COVID-19 patients in the spring and who continue to battle the pandemic today. “With the devastation that this pandemic has caused — with all the heartbreak and all the death — my doing my small part in getting the vaccine to try to stop this pandemic was very important to me,” says Dr. Gerardo Chiricolo, vice chief of the department of emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. “It’s important for everyone to get vaccinated.”

Some colleagues held hands as they got their shots together; others did a celebration dance; many clapped and cheered after each injection. For the staff, it was an emotional occasion that was about much more than protecting themselves from COVID-19.

“I’m getting vaccinated today for my newborn baby,” says Shelahmer Dela Cruz, an emergency department nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “I owe it to her to stay healthy so I can continue to be a mother for her and raise her.”

“I got vaccinated to protect the patients who come to the hospital and for the population at large,” says Melaney Gordon, the director of nursing in the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“I’m getting this vaccine for New York City,” says Dr. Cara Agerstrand, a critical care medicine specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “New York City came out with such strength to support front-line workers and healthcare workers during this whole pandemic, and getting this vaccine today is a way that I can give back.”

The common theme across the entire staff was anticipation for brighter days ahead.

“This gives me hope for 2021 that we can help everybody around us without worrying about  being the source of infection,” says Dr. Renu Mital, an emergency medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “This is the best Christmas present ever.”

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