HHS Secretary, U.S. Surgeon General Join GW for COVID-19 Vaccine Kickoff

First GW clinicians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 14, 2020.

This story was originally reported in GW Today

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) joined George Washington University (GW) clinical enterprise leadership as five members of the GW health care workforce received some of the first vaccinations as part of the official kick off of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination initiative, Dec. 14, 2020.

Leading the event was Barbara L. Bass, MD, RESD ’86, vice president for health affairs, dean of the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and CEO of the GW Medical Faculty Associates (GW MFA), along with William Borden, MD, MBA, professor of medicine at SMHS and chief quality and population health officer at the GW MFA; Bruno Petinaux, MD, chief medical officer at GW Hospital; and Kimberly Russo, MBA, MS, CEO of GW Hospital, and the first group of GW health care staff to receive the vaccination.

GW Hospital was among facilities across the country that received roughly 3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization late Dec. 11. GW received an initial allotment of 925 doses early on the morning, Dec. 14. The first vaccine recipients at GW Hospital, selected based on an algorithm that considers age, exposure risk, and other factors were:

Barbara Neiswander, RN, an emergency medicine nurse.

Raymond Pla, MD, an anesthesiologist at the GW MFA and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at SMHS.

Sheetal Sheth, MD, RESD ’10, medical director of labor and delivery at the GW MFA and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at SMHS.

Shylee Stewart, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at GW Hospital.

Sean Chester, MD, an emergency medicine physician at the GW MFA and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at SMHS.


Watch a video from the event on GW’s Vimeo site.

In welcoming the group, Dean Bass described the delivery of GW Hospital’s first installment of vaccine as “our hope for a healthier future.” She said she is particularly proud of “all the contributions” of GW faculty, researchers, and staff who have worked toward developing a vaccine.

“They have been brave,” Bass said. “Now, we are part of history. We are all part of the solution to end this pandemic.”

Secretary Azar also thanked the team of doctors, researchers, and scientists at GW for their part in research related to COVID-19 vaccines and called the start of administering the vaccination “an extraordinary major achievement that our country has delivered this week. Hope and help are on the way.”

Surgeon General Adams called the vaccination launch “truly a historic day, nothing short of revolutionary. I hope everyone appreciates the history of this moment.

“The finish line to this marathon is in sight,” said Adams, who also urged people to get flu shots now as well as the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available. “We should be proud of this day and also be dogged in our pursuit of equity” in health care. Those with doubts about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccination, he continued, should “ask your doctor if you have questions.”

Raymong Pla, MD, recalled hearing the news he had been selected as one of the early vaccine recipients, and the immediate significance it had for his family. “I was out with my daughter Christmas shopping at Mahogany Books in Anacostia when I got the phone call,” he said. “My daughter was really excited. She’s 13 years old and she understands that meant I would get my first shot today and my second shot in January. She said ‘you’ll be safer Dad,’ and gave me a big hug.”

Pla also noted the importance for him to publicly receive the vaccine to help lessen the mistrust present among some in Black and Brown communities that could make them reluctant to get vaccinated.

“This pandemic,” he said, “has shown a bright light on the health care disparities in our country and the extraordinary burden of death that has occurred in black and brown communities. It’s important for them to see people who look like me get the vaccine; it might make them feel more comfortable about getting the vaccine.”

Mayor Bowser offered her congratulations to the GW on the “Herculean scientific effort” of which the university has been a part. She noted that earlier she had been vaccinated along with members of D.C. Fire and EMS.

“They said they are [getting vaccinated] for their city, for their families,” Bowser said, “so they can safely go home every day after work on the front lines.”

All of the speakers at the event made sure to remind people to continue wearing masks, washing their hands frequently and maintaining safe distances from each other.

“We need every one of you to practice responsible behaviors,” said Secretary Azar. “We want everyone that is here now to be here for the next holiday season.”

Visit GW’s COVID-19 website to learn more information about the vaccination and learn about COVID-19 vaccine facts vs. myths.

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