Three weeks after receiving the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to reach East Texas, UT Health East Texas caregivers again rolled up their sleeves Tuesday, Jan. 5, to receive the second dose of the vaccine.

“The second dose went just fine, exactly the same as the first dose,” said Gary Viljoen, director of rehabilitation services at UT Health North Campus Tyler, who was the first person to receive the vaccine on Dec. 15. “I would encourage everybody to come and get the vaccine once it’s available to them, not just to protect themselves but our community. The quicker we can build up the so-called herd immunity, we can potentially go back to some form of normalcy, and I think everybody would like that very much.”

Caregivers received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is given in two doses 21 days apart. Those who received the second dose Tuesday said they had no effects from the first dose.

“It’s nice to know that we have a very powerful tool in our toolbox now,” Viljoen said. “However, we still need to wear our PPE at this stage and we need to continue with the social distancing and handwashing until we’ve reached herd immunity and until further guidance by the CDC.”

Dr. Bola Olusola said that as a physician, he believes in setting a good example for his patients and the community by taking the vaccine.

“If I want to talk to my patients that they should get the vaccine, I think I should be able to say, ‘Yes I think you should get it. I’ve already gotten it,’” Olusola said. “I think most people have more confidence when you’re preaching the gospel that you believe it.”

Dr. Thomas Cummins, division chief medical officer for UT Health East Texas, said UT Health has distributed almost all of the initial vaccine shipment, primarily to caregivers. The second vaccine shipment arrived Tuesday morning and will cover the second dose of vaccine for those who already received a first dose.

The health system currently is vaccinating only its employees, but hopes to be able to open it to at-risk categories of the general population when additional supply arrives. Cummins said that until the vaccine is in widespread distribution, it is important for everyone to remain vigilant with safety protocols, including those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19.

“Because COVID case numbers are surging across East Texas, we urge residents to continue to do the things we’ve been talking about since the beginning of the pandemic — wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings,” Cummins said. “We know these things work to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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