There are many moments that define a person’s life and career, and one of mine came a mere two weeks ago, when I was asked if I could play a part in the first step to ending the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
Sure, as chief of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I’ve worked alongside those who have saved countless lives to this devastating illness. But this was different. To receive the vaccine during a press conference viewed by millions across the United States would perhaps make even the strongest-willed a little skittish. Yet, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
My answer was an immediate “yes.” And I joined Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, as the first in the nation to receive Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine. The media captured the moment and was quick to ask why we volunteered. Having been on the front lines of the pandemic, witnessing the worst this disease can offer, my decision was primarily for me, my family and my colleagues who day in and day out worked feverishly to save lives and keep people safe. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time.
To me, this moment was about more than just being among the first people in the United States to get the vaccine after federal approval — this was sending a message of hope to our families and communities, who like me, lost so much during the past 10 months. This could end the sorrow and pain, a true chance to change the coronavirus’ overwhelming course.
Covid-19 has left an indelible mark on New York, especially communities of color. I saw that at Lenox Hill, in my hometown of Brooklyn and in Queens, where I now live with my wife and children. We were hit the hardest by this crisis. And as a father and husband, my first job is to keep them safe. As a clinician, I’ve dedicated my career to laying it on the line and helping others. This is what I do.
Covid-19 has shown it doesn’t care about boundaries or professions. It attacks humanity. And my family — a generation of Haitian immigrants — is still mourning the loss of a dear uncle who passed away from the disease. Another relative is currently hospitalized and fighting the illness.
We all have personal impacts of the last year. This vaccine offers an opportunity to end this long, painful journey. It’s our most powerful weapon yet in this fight, and provides a chance of returning to whatever “normal” will be in the months to come. We need to all participate in this final stage. It’s paramount to our safety and to our communities. So, I encourage you to do your homework, research these vaccines like I did and trust the groundbreaking science behind them.
Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which both soon will be available to frontline caregivers and nursing home residents, work on technology that has been in development for 10 years, when researchers realized messenger RNA (mRNA) could advance medications and vaccines by stimulating a protein response in your immune system. To make it clear, it does not inject Covid-19 into you. You will not get the virus from getting inoculated.
These vaccines have been tested rigorously and reviewed by some of the nation’s top scientists and doctors. In New York State, Gov. Cuomo formed his own panel (on which a Northwell physician was seated) to also review the drug before making it available.
As we administer the vaccine to our frontline workers, Northwell is also monitoring everyone receiving the vaccine to ensure its safety as time progresses. So far, the health system has vaccinated 2,000 of our bravest healthcare heroes. There will be more, and your time will come soon.
As encouraging as this latest development is, we must also know that the vaccine alone is not our immediate savior from this awful pandemic. It is imperative for us to remain vigilant in doing our part to slow the spread of this deadly virus. That means we need to continue to wash hands, wear our masks and maintain social distancing — a very difficult task for this time of year, I know.
But as disappointing as this may be for the holiday season, we must remember that we are ending the year with a true gift — a true shot of hope at ending this pandemic for good.
Dr. Yves Duroseau is Chair of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital and a resident of Kew Gardens.