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Audrey Roberson is VCU Health’s first vaccine recipient

Vaccination is the right thing to do, she says.

Audrey Roberson gets her COVID-19 shot Audrey Roberson receives VCU Health's first COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo: Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

By Leila Ugincius

In March 2020, nurse manager Audrey R. Roberson, R.N., Ph.D., witnessed the arrival of VCU Medical Center’s first COVID-19 patient. Today, she witnessed the center’s first vaccination. Not only that, she experienced it. Roberson was VCU Medical Center’s first COVID-19 vaccine recipient. 

Roberson said she knew, as a scientist, that getting the vaccine was the right thing to do, both for the community and for her personally. “I still have my mom, and she's an eight-year breast cancer survivor. But I have had to limit being around her because I do not want to risk bringing harm to her. I miss my mom. I miss doing things with her.”

Roberson has worked at VCU for 31 years — the last 13 in the medical respiratory ICU (MRICU). Here she describes what it’s like to be the first vaccine recipient, to care for COVID-19 patients and to experience hope for the first time in so many months.

Is it correct to say that you've been on the front lines since the pandemic hit full speed in March?

I would say my team has been on the front lines. Our team members have been in the patients’ rooms, they've held their hands. They've been with their families and been their advocates. They have been providing the holistic care that these patients need so desperately at this time.

What does it mean for you to be in the first group of vaccine recipients? Does this ease your worry about the virus?

What's really important to me is who's coming after me. I want people to see that there are a number of experts at this organization and across the country who really believe in this vaccine, and we want people to not be afraid, to embrace this as an opportunity to really turn the curve of what's been going on throughout our country, and globally.

I'm not putting as much value into being the first as I am having many, many people, I hope, follow my footsteps and for them to be the first, maybe in their family or in their community, to really step forward and take this vaccine.

I understand you weren't sure if you wanted to be among the first to receive the vaccine. Why is that? What changed your mind about the vaccine?

What tainted me a little bit was it did not help to hear this labeled as "Operation Warp Speed." I think it did our community a disservice. But I took it upon myself to read the research and ask questions of the experts.

I trust the science. I trust the people who put their knowledge and expertise into developing this vaccine. And I decided to move forward for the sake of my family, for the sake of my workplace family as well, and for the community.

What would you say to people who don't want the vaccine?

While I understand it is a personal choice, I have to ask ‘why not?’ The COVID virus is not going away. Until many, many, many, many people take the vaccine, we will continue down the horrific path we have been on, with the injuries and deaths that we have seen globally, as well as within the United States and in our state.

I would ask them to look at the opportunity to be with their family. Do this for others because right now, this hour, this is our chance to move forward into 2021 on a high note and to get past this COVID virus successfully.

What would you like to add?

If there's just one person that I influence by getting this vaccine, then that's plenty. But I thank so many people. I won't name them all, but I thank the team here in the medical respiratory ICU, our experts here at VCU Health System, so many people who are behind the scenes that we will not see their faces, we will not know their names, that have been so instrumental in getting the vaccine to the commonwealth and across the country. A tremendous thanks to them. Their endless journey does not go unnoticed, and from the bottom of our hearts here, I just say, thank you.

I'm getting a little emotional right now knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I just beg people to get this vaccine. Just go and get this vaccine when it becomes available to you so that you can spend your time with your loved ones in the coming year.