64-year-old residential care aide is 1st person in B.C. to receive COVID-19 vaccine
'It feels like a dream came true,' says Nisha Yunus, who received the shot Tuesday afternoon
It was a nine-month wait for a moment that unfolded in seconds.
With a swab of an arm and the prick of a needle, a health-care worker on Tuesday became the first person in British Columbia to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, kicking off the provincial leg of a nationwide vaccination campaign that promises an end to the pandemic.
Nisha Yunus, a 64-year-old residential care aide, received the shot shortly after 1 p.m. PT at an undisclosed vaccination site in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.
Before receiving the shot, Yunus was met with applause by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Ross Brown, who is leading the province's vaccine rollout.
A nurse swabbed the worker's arm and asked her to take a deep breath. Seconds later, the needle went in.
The nurse then applied a bandage and applause broke out. Henry gave Yunus an elbow bump as cameras fired.
Yunus has worked for 41 years as a residential care aide at Vancouver's Mount Saint Joseph Hospital. For that entire period, she has worked on the same unit and floor.
She initially agreed to an interview on site, but later changed her mind and declined. In a statement issued later Tuesday, Yunus said it was an honour and privilege to receive the province's first vaccine.
"I am so grateful. It feels like a dream came true," she said.
"I have seen first-hand what COVID-19 does to families, and I am hopeful we are getting closer to finally reaching the end of this pandemic, so people can reunite safely with their loved ones and put this behind us."
Henry described B.C.'s first vaccination as monumental.
"It brings a spark of light and joy," she said. "It's so exciting to know that we're starting to make difference and turning the tide on this pandemic."
WATCH: Nisha Yunus receives the first COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in B.C.
'I just want this all over'
The first vaccines come as B.C. continues to see record-high hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.
On Tuesday, the province reported 21 deaths and 522 new cases. Since the start of pandemic in March, 668 people have died in B.C. and close to 45,000 people have been infected.
Henry has called the vaccine rollout the "most complex and comprehensive immunization program ever delivered in B.C."
The first shipment of 3,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to arrive in B.C. will go to health-care workers and long-term care staff.
The shots, which arrived in B.C. on Sunday night, are being administered at two vaccination locations: the first in the Fraser Health region, which includes the cities of Surrey and Burnaby, and the second in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which includes Vancouver, Whistler and the Sunshine Coast.
Health officials haven't publicly disclosed the locations due to security concerns. Henry said it's important for people who attend the sites to feel safe.
"And of course, we want to make sure that we're protecting the vaccine and able to use every single dose," she said.
Henry said 100 people were expected to be vaccinated Tuesday. The pace will ramp up once workers grow more comfortable with administering the shots, she said.
Linda Latour, a health-care assistant, was the first person to receive the shot in the Fraser Health region.
Latour said providing care for seniors in long-term care homes has been stressful for her and her family, along with the residents she supports.
"I'm really excited. I just want this all over," she said, growing visibly emotional. "I want to be able to see my kids again."
As of next week, the vaccine will be available in each of B.C.'s five health authorities, as more vaccination sites open.
Moderna vaccine pending approval
Earlier Tuesday, the federal government announced Canada could receive 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Health Canada is in its final stages of review for the new "promising" vaccine, with a decision expected as early as this week.
Trudeau said deliveries can begin within two days of Health Canada's approval.
Henry said its arrival could soon mean doses for long-term care residents, who were shut out of the first shipments, as well as remote Indigenous communities.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures and the province's long-term care facilities currently lack the infrastructure to store the shots. The Moderna vaccine can be stored at regular fridge temperatures.
Henry said B.C. is also working with Pfizer to approve its safety protocols to move the vaccines around the province.
She noted the first round of doses will help curb outbreaks in long-term care homes, but it will take some time before the vaccines stop community transmission.
"That's something we're going to be looking forward to in the coming months."
- A previous version of this story stated Yunus worked at a Vancouver Coastal Health facility. While the facility, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, is located in the VCH region, it is operated by Providence Health Care.Dec 16, 2020 10:25 AM PT