Historic Turn in Pandemic with First Vaccinations at UConn Health

UConn Health received its first shipment of nearly 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer, just FDA-approved for emergency use authorization.

Nurse receiving the COVID-19 vaccination

UConn Health emergency department physician Dr. Alise Frallicciardi receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccines from staff nurse Jennifer Pickert. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

This morning UConn Health received its first shipment of nearly 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer, just FDA-approved for emergency use authorization. The COVID-19 vaccine’s arrival led to today’s historic milestone of the first vaccinations of more than three dozen UConn Health front line clinical care workers at the Outpatient Pavilion.

Tomorrow UConn Health will begin a full day schedule of vaccinating the rest of its health care workforce in Phase 1a which is expected to continue for several weeks. This week UConn Health is one of four health care systems in Connecticut to kick-off the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

“I want to thank the Governor, the Department of Public Health and everybody who has been involved in helping us to get these vaccines and distribute these vaccines,” said Dr. Andy Agwunobi, CEO of UConn Health, leading his workforce by example today by choosing to be one of the first vaccinated at UConn Health.

“This is a historic moment for UConn Health,” shared Agwunobi. “We consider this the point of which we start to turn the corner and we are able to protect all of our health care workers so that we can start to spread these vaccines out to others in the community and start to get back to normality.”

Post-vaccination Agwunobi added: “I feel great. It’s a safe vaccine and we feel very comfortable with it.”

Dr. David Banach couldn’t agree more as hospital epidemiologist and UConn Health Division of Infectious Diseases expert who also chose to send a strong message by being one of the first vaccinated. Banach is urging others to get the vaccine as soon as possible and stresses the scientific data about the vaccine is incredibly strong, showing it is safe and effective.

“I am feeling well, not even any discomfort which is great,” shared Banach post-vaccination. “I think it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to get the vaccine at this point. This is a vaccine that so many people really need and this is what we are going to need to turn the corner. I am very grateful for this opportunity, I think it really does provide that light at the end of the tunnel.

“While the battle is not over, we certainly are moving in the right direction with this vaccine,” says Banach. He feels that the vaccine is restoring hope for UConn Health’s health care workers who have cared for some of the sickest patients with COVID-19, and have witnessed first-hand the virus’ impact on both individuals and also the tremendous devastation in families.

“All of us in the hospital have been at it every day taking care of patients,” said Banach. “We do this because this is our calling and this is our responsibility. We do feel some element of fatigue, but we push through. This vaccine is really going to be the boost that we need to keep going. In terms of preventing infection this vaccine is really going to be what we need.”

As one of the first to be vaccinated Dr. Robert Fuller, as chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine who has been caring for COVID-19 patients on the front line as well, shared his own hope and optimism about the new vaccine.

“I feel good,” shared Fuller expressing total confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and how it was an easy decision for him to decide to take the shot. “This is going to protect me from getting sick, and protect my family. It’s going to change things so much for us. It means my workforce won’t worry about getting sick. The most vulnerable people in our state will be protected. Eventually it will mean that our state can get open to business again.”

Fuller added: “We are at the bottom of this battle with COVID. I am really positive that this is going to make the difference.”

The other initial 35 UConn Health employees to first receive the COVID-19 vaccine were thrilled to have the opportunity.

“It was awesome,” shared Dr. Alise Frallicciardi, associate professor of emergency medicine. “Mass vaccination is going to be quite the task. It’s historic and this vaccine prevents. All the hard work has just been amazing and to maneuver the virus’ uncertainty.”

“I didn’t even feel it,” shared Maggie Silver, Deputy Chief of Police at UConn Health. “As first responders we may get exposed and I think the vaccine is the way to go.”

Even the vaccinators felt the gravity of today’s historic moments.

“It’s exciting,” said Joan Selleck, a registered nurse at UConn Health who administered the first vaccinations. “How often do you get to be part of history?”

“It was very exciting,” shared fellow vaccinator Jennifer Pickert, RN. “But a little nerve-wracking having everyone watching. It feels great to be one of the top hospitals being able to offer the new-age vaccine.”

Anne Horbatuck, VP of Ambulatory Services at UConn Health, also shared in the day’s excitement and was one of the first to be vaccinated.

“I feel excellent,” shared Horbatuck. “The vaccine doesn’t hurt and it’s a real simple process. Please everyone get vaccinated for safety.”

Agwunobi concluded his remarks on the historic day with: “My thanks to all the workers who are giving the vaccines out. I advise everyone to consider seriously receiving the vaccine and we can turn the corner and get back to business as usual.”

Learn more about UConn Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Program online and FAQs about the new vaccine.