ICU nurse embraced the honor of administering first COVID-19 vaccine at UCLA Health

Eunice Lee works in the cardiothoracic unit at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

UCLA Health tapped a team of nurses to administer the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines to frontline health care workers on Dec. 16.

But one nurse, Eunice Lee, would dispense the very first injection.

For Lee, RN, BSN, who works in the cardiothoracic intensive care unit at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, a sense of honor and hope barely edged out her nerves as she prepared to administer the historic vaccine.

“I wanted to be a part of it because this is a big moment,” she said. “This is a historic moment. I feel very honored. It’s very hopeful and I’m very thankful for it.”

She confessed to being “kind of nervous” before giving the first dose, though she’s administered hundreds of flu shots during her career and the process is exactly the same with the COVID-19 vaccine. Lee’s hands trembled as she pulled on a pair of blue latex gloves.

ICU nurse Eunice Lee is ready to start administering the first COVID-19 vaccines at UCLA Health. (Photo by Sandy Cohen)

The vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech — the first to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — is part of a nationwide immunization effort that many hope represents the beginning of the end of a global pandemic that has caused widespread illness, death, economic strife and social upheaval. The vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart for full efficacy.

On Dec. 16, Lee found herself working in a setting distinctly different from where she’s spent the past 10 months caring for coronavirus patients, carefully donning and doffing protective equipment and coming home to share the day’s heartbreaks with her husband.

On the first day COVID-19 vaccines were being given, Lee was surrounded by jubilant colleagues, their smiles hidden by masks, in a room dotted with blue and gold balloons.

Applause broke out after she completed the first injection. Lee’s eyes reflected relief and gratitude.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “It’s good to hear that it wasn’t that painful. So hopefully a lot of people will come in and get the vaccine and hopefully COVID will be taken care of.”