Houston Nurse Is First To Get COVID-19 Vaccine In The Region

Robert Luckey, a registered nurse who works in the Memorial Hermann COVID-19 ICU in the Texas Medical Center, became the first person to be vaccinated in the Houston area on Tuesday, kicking off the state’s phased-in vaccination plan.

CNBC / Pool Footage
Robert Luckey, a 39-year-old registered nurse in the Memorial Hermann COVID-19 ICU, received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15, 2020.

A registered nurse who works in the Memorial Hermann COVID-19 ICU in the Texas Medical Center became the first person to be vaccinated in the Houston area on Tuesday, as hospitals across Texas began to receive their initial shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Robert Luckey sat in a chair at Memorial Hermann about 10:20 a.m. Tuesday morning. Doctors asked him about his medical history — questions about allergies and health conditions — before a specialist injected the vaccine into his left arm, prompting an emotional moment for the health care worker amid applause from gathered onlookers.

“It was surreal, to be honest with you,” Luckey said. “I just felt, honestly, just honored to be chosen to receive the vaccine first. I know they could have chosen a lot of people to do it.”

Luckey, 39, has been working in the hospital’s ICU since February, before the first cases of COVID-19 in the state were identified. He told Houston Public Media that he remembered when there were only a few patients, and watched it steadily grow until it reached capacity in both the COVID-19 ICU and the intermediate unit. He’s since worked through each spike in the region, he said, with patients in the most dire need of care.

There was a learning curve in the beginning as health care workers learned to deal with the virus, he said — how to interact with patients, how to keep themselves safe while also taking care of sick people. Now the staff feels a little more confident, he added, with safety procedures and health protocols that have come with learning from the more than 210,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases that have hit Harris County since March.

Luckey said one habit he had to break was rushing head-on into emergency situations that cropped up. Instead, workers had to learn to be extra cautious with the then-unknown infectious disease, making sure they were operating safely in order to not infect themselves and others.

“You’re so used to just going in, not having to worry about your own safety, you put the patients first,” he said. “But that’s one of the things I had to teach myself while being in this unit: It’s OK to get yourself together first, because you’re more effective that way, to the patient and to my coworkers.”

Seven Houston-area hospitals got allocations of the Pfizer vaccine this week. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, Ben Taub Hospital, Houston Methodist, LBJ Hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital and UTMB Galveston all began vaccinations as well.

MORE | Rural Hospitals In Texas Were Excluded From First Shipments Of COVID-19 Vaccine

Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom said his staff has been waiting for this day to arrive.

“I’ve had many describe today like Christmas morning, waiting for Santa’s sleigh to arrive, and then sitting at the top of the stairs while your parents won’t let you down quite yet to open up the presents,” he said. “But we’ve got the best gift of the year.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who visited Houston Methodist Tuesday afternoon, thanked those first in line to receive the vaccine.

“These folks were exhausted already back in April. And they fought through. And then they saw another surge, in June-July, and they pushed through and so did their families,” Hidalgo said. “They are there, and they’re fighting.”

This week’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is part of the state’s multi-phase vaccination plan, with frontline health care workers — including hospital staff treating COVID-19 patients, as well as staff and residents at long-term care facilities — receiving the first doses. About 1.5 million doses are expected to be made available by the end of the month.

Phase 2, which is estimated to begin in February, increases that number, to ensure access to those critical populations that remained unvaccinated.

The general public could begin to receive the vaccine as late as July, according to Texas health officials, though some estimates had previously pegged that date as early as April.

And when it does, Robert Luckey said he hopes people follow in his footsteps, and don’t hesitate to get vaccinated.

“Some people think that they shouldn’t get the vaccine, or they don’t think it’s that major,” he said. “But the reality is this COVID virus is not just about anybody singularly. This affected the entire world. So we have to attack it in that same way. We all have to get on that same sheet of music, we all have to make up in our minds that we’re here not only for ourselves but for our neighbor as well.”

Additional reporting by Matt Harab.

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