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UofL Health Frontline Workers Share Experiences After Receiving Coronavirus Vaccine

Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor was among the first five patients to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky on December 14, 2020.
Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor was among the first five patients to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky on December 14, 2020.

The first five Kentuckians to receive Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine gave an update about their experiences Monday, one week after getting the injection.

All five are frontline health care workers at University of Louisville Health. Last week, UofL was one of 11 hospitals in Kentucky to receive the first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine.

First in line for the vaccine at UofL were Drs. Jason Smith, Valerie Briones-Pryor and Mohamed Saad, and registered nurses LaShawn Scott and Beth Sum. On Monday, the group held a press briefing to share information about the vaccine.

“My biggest rationale for getting the vaccine was to take the next step in fighting this pandemic,” Sum said. “It was one that took lots of research and lots of talks around the nursing station just to pick each other’s brains and see what we all felt about it. It was honestly probably one of the easiest decisions to make. It just came down to what was logical and what was right.”

None of the vaccinated workers reported any adverse side effects. A few experienced mild soreness around the injection site that went away after the first day.

Smith, UofL’s Chief Medical Officer, said he had no side effects at all. He said his team is happy to have received the vaccine, but as of now, it changes nothing about their daily battle against COVID-19.

“I’ll be honest, it’s just not widespread enough yet that we can kind of begin to be less stressed about this or less worried about our friends and our family,” Smith said. “It’s still there… It’s better, but I think we still have a lot on our plates. We still have a lot of patients in the hospital with this disease, and we’re seeing more every day.”

The day Briones-Pryor was vaccinated, she lost her 27th patient to COVID-19. She has since had another patient die, and that number will grow soon, she said. 

“It still hasn’t changed what’s happening around us,” Briones-Pryor said. “And that is people are still losing the battle with COVID. I did lose a 28th patient, and I’ll probably lose 29, 30 and 31 here shortly.”

Smith said about 550 UofL workers have been vaccinated with the first shipment of 975 doses. He hopes to have all “tier 1” health care workers at the hospital, about 7,000 people, vaccinated by the end January.

Until the vaccine is more widely available, Smith said Kentuckians must continue to take precautions to limit spread of the virus.

“Don’t stop now, just because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We’re not out yet. Keep doing everything we’ve been doing. Come spring and summer, we’ll be in a very different place, and we’ll be able to do a lot of the things that we love.

A second Pfizer shipment will be sent to hospitals soon. Moderna’s recently-approved vaccine will also be dispersed in the coming weeks.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.