PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s first COVID-19 vaccines were administered Monday to frontline health care workers at Rhode Island Hospital.
Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital group, received 2,000 doses of the federally approved vaccine developed by Pfizer. Another 1,000 doses is expected to arrive on Tuesday.
Dr. Christian Arbelaez, Rhode Island Hospital’s attending physician and vice chair of academic affairs and emergency medicine, was the first to be vaccinated. He said he was “excited and thankful” to receive the shot, which will help him and his colleagues keep up the fight against COVID-19.
“The battle we’re fighting at the bedside has been really hard and in my 20-year career, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Arbelaez said.
“I want to ask you to please get the vaccine so you can keep yourself and your family healthy,” he added. “We will stop the spread in our communities if you get vaccinated. The vaccine is not the virus. The vaccine works by confusing the body to help your body create an army to fight it. The vaccine is safe, that’s why I got it today.”
Lifespan said it will focus first on vaccinating its most at-risk employees, including providers and staff who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients or infectious fluids and materials.
The company said it plans to hold clinics at The Miriam and Newport hospitals on Tuesday and Bradley Hospital on Wednesday.
With the Pfizer vaccine, those employees will need to receive a second shot within three weeks to maximize immunity.
The goal is to vaccinate each of its roughly 16,000 employees at five hospitals over the next several months, according to Lifespan President and CEO Timothy Babineau, MD.
“As a health care system, we know that the way to fight this pandemic is on two fronts,” Babineau said in a statement. “The first is to effectively and expertly treat patients with COVID-19. We are already doing that every day. The second is to prevent people from contracting this dangerous disease in the first place.”
“With this vaccine, which studies have shown to be safe and 94 percent effective, our health care system and workers can help play a vital role in conquering COVID-19,” he continued.
Julia Alves, a registered nurse at Rhode Island Hospital, was among the first to be inoculated on Monday. She called the shot a “sense of relief” and had a message to anyone unsure about getting the vaccine: “don’t be scared.”
“If you only saw what we see, you would definitely get the vaccine,” Alves said. “Seeing all of these people dying by themselves, with us holding their hands at the bedside, it’s not pretty and I don’t wish that on anybody.”
Rhode Island’s second largest hospital group, Care New England, said it’s expecting to receive its first shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine Tuesday morning.
Earlier on Monday, the R.I. Department of Health reported an additional 46 COVID-19-related deaths and 2,673 new infections since data was last released on Friday.