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For the latest COVID-19 information, visit vcuhealth.org/covid-19 or Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU for pediatrics. For vaccine details, visit vcuhealth.org/covidvaccine.

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‘Easier than my flu shot’: Front-line workers document their vaccine journey

More than 3,200 front-line workers have been vaccinated since Pfizer’s vaccine became available to team members at VCU Health. Three doctors share their stories.

A nurse manager in blue scrubs, a face mask and a face shield injects a doctor facing the camera with a syringe full of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. VCU Health nurse manager Veronica Holden (left) administers the Pfizer vaccine to Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough on Dec. 17. Kimbrough was one of the first 1,000 team members to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at VCU Health. (Courtesy Tiffany Kimbrough)

By Mary Kate Brogan

Front-line team members at VCU Health received the health system’s first doses of the vaccine starting Dec. 16. The side effects they experienced were mild — a sore arm here, a slight headache there — but their days afterward weren’t much different than normal, and they were one step closer to making themselves and others even safer from COVID-19.

“I just feel honored to be in this first wave of folks that are able to get the vaccine and to keep my family and my patients safe,” Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough shared in a video she recorded on Dec. 17, just minutes before receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Kimbrough, the medical director of the newborn nursery at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, was one of several team members who created a video diary cataloging her experience getting the vaccine. She was one of the first 1,000 team members to get vaccinated at VCU Health. After Pfizer’s vaccine arrived at VCU Health, more than 3,200 team members were vaccinated in the first week alone.

“First vaccine over and done with,” a chipper Kimbrough said to the camera, shortly after getting vaccinated. “It was super easy-peasy, barely a flinch. It was actually easier than my flu shot.”

The day she got the vaccine, Kimbrough experienced a few side effects: Some arm soreness, which she said she only noticed when moving her arm, and a slight headache that went away fairly quickly, she said.

Dr. Robert Winn, director of VCU Massey Cancer Center, said that, like many other vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines work by giving your body a protein — which your body recognizes as a foreign object — and your body reacts by producing antibodies. Low-grade fever, muscle aches and tiredness are all side effects that we should expect our bodies to feel within 48-72 hours after getting any vaccine, he said.

“That is normal. That says that the vaccine that they just stuck in your arm is working,” Winn said.

Winn, who received the vaccine himself on Dec. 16, had “a little soreness in my arm and maybe I even had a little low-grade temperature, but that lasted 24 hours, and that was it.” He said getting the Pfizer vaccine was no different than any other shot he’s had in his life, with the usual added benefit of a vaccine that “you're protected at the end of it all.”

Dr. Stephanie Louka, a physician in the Emergency Department at VCU Medical Center, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 18. The day of, she had “just a touch of a headache” and, the day after, she had a bit of arm soreness but otherwise felt just fine.

“Honestly, the actual injection was much better than I thought,” Louka said. “I’d say it’s slightly better than a flu shot and a lot better than a tetanus (shot).”

Louka was glad to be getting the vaccine for multiple reasons, her family among them.

“This makes me really happy,” she said. “I think maybe the only people that might be more happy are my parents who … I know have been worried about myself and my husband (Dr. Amir Louka) because we’re both emergency physicians here at VCU.”

Family was a factor in Kimbrough’s decision to get vaccinated too. In a video the night after getting the vaccine, Kimbrough sat on the couch asking her son if he remembers what she did at work that day. “Got the coronavirus vaccine to keep everybody safe!” he said excitedly.

The availability of a vaccine for front-line workers is key to preserving the health and safety of patients, team members and their families, but it also contributes to the health of our community throughout the region, said Winn.

“I think it means everything to the community,” Winn said. “The truth of the matter is: The quicker we can get the vaccine administered and the quicker we can get it out to everyone, the sooner we’ll be back to at least near normal.”

Read more related news stories about COVID-19 vaccinations at VCU Health.