FLORENCE, S.C. — MUSC Health Florence on Wednesday morning started vaccinating frontline medical staff with the first of what is expected to be several vaccines approved to prevent the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
"It was great. I have been looking forward to it, a lot of people have been looking forward to it," said Rami Zebian, the hospital's chief medical officer, after his 9 a.m. appointment. "It is a bright light at the end of this tunnel."
He stood briefly in line with several other doctors at the receptionist's window, answered a few questions and was vaccinated all in the span of about five minutes.
The hospital started inoculations at 10-minute intervals at 7 a.m. Those who were vaccinated had to stay around for 15 minutes of observation afterward.
"I feel joy," Zebian said of his vaccination. "Initially I was scratching to get any optimistic terminology to use. I feel joy today. I think that, hey, this is starting to end. It is amazing."
"My arm doesn't' feel sore yet but may feel sore later on," Zebian said in comparison to the flu shot he received earlier in the season.
"We all have a role to play in this," Zebian told journalists invited for the occasion. "I have seen what COVID does to my patients in ICU and in the clinic. I don't want to share it with my colleagues, I don't want to bring it home to my family. I've been waiting for this for a very long time. I'm happy it's done. Another dose three weeks from now and I'm good."
Zebian said the hospital's Charleston campus has an ultra-cold freezer capable of storing the vaccine and the Florence campus is on a zero-wastage plan and only ordering the correct number of doses as are scheduled for the day.
The vaccine, he said, is the result of a lot of work by many people along the way, from scientists who developed it to the people upon whom it was tested to the hospital's logistics employees who made sure it was available Wednesday morning.
"Now we have the responsibility to deliver the vaccine," Zebian said.
At MUSC Health Florence the vaccine will not be mandatory for staff, so part of that responsibility includes making the case that getting vaccinates is the right thing to do.
"I believe everybody wants to do the right thing. If we don't agree on what is the right thing then it's on me to have a better conversation," Zebian said, showing off an "Ask me if I'm Taking the COVID-19 Vaccine" sign that hung prominently from his lab coat.
The sign, he said, is designed to be a conversation starter to help him explain the need and benefits of the vaccine.
Zebian said physicians know what the vaccine's safety profile is and how protective it will be.
"I have a choice to make, and in my mind the choice is easy. I encourage the conversations," he said.
"I've seen what COVID does. I've seen what COVID has done to my ICU patients. I've seen what it has a done to my families who have an empty seat at the dinner table," Zebian said.
Full protection will kick in a couple weeks after the second vaccine, for which he has an appointment in three weeks.
And even then he'll continue to mask up and maintain social distance until the CDC changes its guidance, Zebian said.
Digital Editor Matt Robertson is a veteran journalist who has fulfilled just about every role that a newspaper has and now serves as a key member of the Morning News' newsroom by maintaining SCNow.com and covering the occasional story and photo assignment.