On December 15, 2020, a group of 13 healthcare workers in Seattle become the first people in Washington to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The group of doctors, nurses, paramedics, medical assistants, and other healthcare providers receives the Pfizer vaccine at the University of Washington Medical Center. The vaccines are part of an initial shipment of 3,900 doses that had been shipped to Seattle the day before from Gerald Ford International Airport outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. Cheers, tears, and rounds of applause greeted the 13 healthcare workers who rolled up their sleeves to receive the state's first vaccine doses.
Shipping the Precious Cargo
The first reported coronavirus case in the U.S., confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on January 21, 2020, was transmitted unknowingly by a Washington resident who returned from Wuhan, China, on January 15, 2020. The first known death in the U.S. from COVID-19 occurred in Kirkland on February 26, 2020. As the country began to prepare for the long-awaited distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities were given priority. In the U.S., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was granted approval first, with the Moderna vaccine expected to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020.
Washington's coronavirus vaccine response was authorized by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The workgroup was made up of vaccine experts from Washington, California, Oregon, and Nevada who had been meeting regularly to review and analyze the data, making sure the vaccines were safe and effective.
The preparation and shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Michigan were covered extensively by local and national media. The boxes were prepared for shipment on Sunday, December 13, 2020, kept ultra-cold in freezers registering minus-69 degree Fahrenheit. The first shipment of 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine earmarked for Seattle was loaded onto a FedEx truck at Pfizer's Michigan plant and transported to Gerald Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids for the flight to Seattle.
The Lucky 13
The vaccine supply arrived on Monday, December 14, 2020, and distribution began on December 15, 2020. The selection process adhered to the guidelines established by the CDC. The first priority groups were healthcare personnel and those in long-term nursing facilities, followed by essential workers such as police, firefighters, transportation workers, and teachers. The third phase was to include high-risk adults and those over the age of 65.
"These guidelines helped University of Washington Medicine decide how to rollout their first round of COVID-19 vaccines. 'Provide vaccines to all healthcare workers in that first phase, specifically healthcare workers that are patient-facing,' explained Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy, Director of Harborview Infectious Diseases Clinic" (Lafferty).
Thirteen individuals received the state's first vaccine. They were:
- Emergency room nurse, UW Medical Center
- Environmental services technician, UW Medical Center
- Paramedic, Seattle Fire Department Medic One
- Flight nurse, Airlift Northwest
- Physician, Valley Medical Center, Renton
- Physician, pulmonary/critical care and sleep medicine, UW Medical Center
- Patient care technician, UW Medical Center
- Third-year resident, emergency medicine
- Nurse, COVID acute care, UW Medical Center
- Clinical specialist, respiratory care, Harborview Medical Center
- Physician and director of post-acute care network, Harborview Medical Center
- Medical assistant (floater)
- Nurse, Covid-19 intensive care unit, Harborview Medical Center
An Emotional Turning Point
Emotions were high on December 15 as each of the 13 received the vaccine. First in line was Amy Fry, a COVID intensive care nurse, followed by emergency room nurse Emily Agudo. Fry was in turn tearful and joyful after receiving her vaccine. "I feel excited. For the first time in a while, I feel hope" (Boiko-Weyrauch).
Representing the state's first responders was paramedic Alan Goto, a 22-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department. Goto had spent the previous eight months on the department's Mobile Assessment Team, going into long-term care facilities and adult homes to test patients and staff for the virus. As he waited to receive his shot, Goto spoke of his role as a public servant and the responsibilities that came with it: "[Since we] have chosen to dedicate ourselves to protecting our community, getting vaccinated is the most relevant thing we can do in this moment to fulfill our commitment to serving the public" (Derrick).
Receiving the vaccine was emotional for oncology nurse Allison Miller, but for another reason. Miller had given birth in February, a month before the state lock-down began on March 23, 2020. "It's been a really isolating time for me because keeping a newborn safe during all these unknowns ... it's just held a lot of weight for me" (Bunin). The vaccine had given her hope that she could introduce her newborn son to family members he had not yet met.
After the vaccine was injected into the upper arm, each individual was asked to remain nearby for 15 minutes for observation. Clinical nurse specialist Kaitlyn Drew outlined the protocol: "We just have them sit and relax in a chair; we have some juice and water back there for them if they need it" (Boiko-Weyrauch).
At the end of the week, the state's Department of Health hoped to receive another 62,400 doses for distribution to 17 sites in 13 counties. By the end of December 2020, another 222,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected. Moderna was prepared to deliver some additional 183,000 doses once FDA approval was granted.
As of December 2020, Washington had 414,000 people in healthcare and in nursing homes who were given priority status to receive the vaccine. Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, about 200,000 coronavirus cases in Washington were confirmed and more than 2,800 people had died from COVID-19.