Health

Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor lost her 27th patient to COVID-19 on Monday morning. Before noon, she was among the first five patients in Kentucky to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Over the next three days, 11 regional hospitals across the state will receive more than 12,000 doses of the vaccine to administer to health care workers like Briones-Pryor, who has worked in a COVID-19 wing at Jewish Hospital since March 17th. 

“The vaccine I took today was for her family, and the other 26 [patients] I have lost,” Briones-Pryor said. 

More than 2,000 Kentuckians have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the first case was confirmed in the state on March 6th. The pandemic continues to grip the state with 119 of 120 counties reporting uncontrolled spread of the virus.  

But with the arrival of the first vaccines, for the first time in a long time, Briones-Pryor said she and her colleagues feel hope. 

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Louisville Hospital in Kentucky on December 14, 2020.

Another 25,000 doses are headed to CVS and Walgreens, which have a federal contract to vaccinate workers and residents in the state’s long-term care facilities. Long-term care residents make up almost two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths and need a higher amount of resources when they are hospitalized. 

Beshear said he expects the federal approval of the Moderna vaccine in the coming days. Following its approval, Beshear said Kentucky may receive as many as 150,000 doses of that vaccine by the end of the month. 

The first 38,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Louisville on Sunday through UPS Worldport. 

UPS Driver Byron Bishop delivered the first case of vaccines to the University of Louisville Hospital on Monday morning as part of his typical route. He said it’s the most important package he’s ever delivered. 

“I mean it hasn’t hit me yet to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s humbling being part of this vaccine process, it’s going to save a lot of lives.” 

Gov. Andy Beshear, the media and University of Louisville Hospital staff were there to watch as Bishop unloaded the first shipment off the truck inside the loading bay of University of Louisville Hospital. 

“Today we can see victory. We can see the defeat of the coronavirus and the end of this pandemic,” Beshear said. “This is a historic achievement that promises to save lives in this fight, restore our economy, get our kids back to school and let our kids hug their grandparents once again.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Smith, Briones-Pryor and three other health care workers were the first to receive the vaccinations. Smith volunteered to be the first in the state so he could prove the vaccine is both safe and effective, and to set an example for others, he said. 

“We are just five people, but we represent the health care workers here in the state and across the nation who’ve really been working tirelessly to provide the best care possible,” Smith said. 

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A vial of COVID-19 vaccine at University of Louisville Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, on December 14, 2020.

LaShawn Scott, who works in infection control at the hospital, was the first Black woman in the state to receive the vaccination. Scott said she jumped at the chance to demonstrate that the vaccine is safe, particularly for the Black community, which faces higher risks from the virus and has historically expressed distrust in U.S. health care because of abuses like the Tuskegee Experiment

“Especially with the African-American community and vaccinations. It’s important to understand that it’s safe to get,” Scott said. 

The governor said he would likely receive the vaccine next week following a second shipment, when there is enough supply for frontline workers and long-term care residents. 

But even with vaccinations underway, Beshear warned Kentuckians to remain vigilant in following health care guidelines.

“Every death between now and when everyone has an opportunity to be vaccinated, is one we can avoid,” he said. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.