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First anniversary of the COVID-19 vaccine: Memories of a historic day

Nurse Venus Lucero administers vaccine to Jo-Anne Miner

Nurse Venus Lucero administered Ottawa’s first COVID-19 vaccine to personal support worker Jo-Anne Miner at The Ottawa Hospital on December 15, 2020.

On December 15, 2020, The Ottawa Hospital administered the very first COVID-19 vaccinations in the city. The day is still vivid in the minds of many in the Ottawa community, particularly the health-care workers both on the front lines and behind the scenes who worked tirelessly to make this milestone a success.

Nerves, hope and excitement on the front lines

“There was a sense of hope and excitement going into that first week,” says Axelle Pellerin, Director of Education and the director responsible for the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at The Ottawa Hospital.

The Ottawa Hospital was one of two locations in Ontario selected by the provincial government to administer the first vaccinations. “It was an honour for us to be picked out of the many hospitals in Ontario that the government could have selected,” she says.

That honour meant the stakes were high to deliver a successful rollout, and Axelle felt the pressure. But as soon as she walked into the clinic that day and saw the hive of activity, she knew that everything was going to be okay.

“I think that gave us the energy for the next 12 months of vaccinating people because it really was a positive energy, one of hope,” she says. “Everybody banded together. It didn’t matter if you were a physician, a nurse, a student, or a resident; everybody was there to help and to make sure that the day went off without a hitch.”

Retired nurses return to help

Axelle praises the 54 nurses who came out of retirement specifically to help The Ottawa Hospital with the vaccine rollout.

“That’s something that was very special to see. They didn’t have to do this; they didn’t have to come in at 7 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm. But it was their way of giving back to their colleagues who were still on the front lines of the pandemic,” says Axelle.

“For me personally, it was a career highlight to be part of and to lead such a dedicated team.”

The light at the end of the tunnel

“I was anxious, to be honest,” recalls Alex Kuo, Director of Pharmacy at The Ottawa Hospital, in the days leading up that historic first dose. The Pfizer vaccine had only recently arrived in Canada, and Alex and his team were tasked with setting up one of only two vaccination clinics in the province.

In addition to preparing the vaccines for that historical moment, there were preparations for media interviews and the arrival of high-profile guests. Though he didn’t roll up his sleeve that day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid the clinic a visit, and Alex had the opportunity to sit down with him for a chat about the vaccine. “It was a great moment,” says Alex. “And nerve-wracking at the same time.”

When the very first dose was administered, Alex was relieved the planning leading to that first week had paid off.

“We knew this was potentially the light at the end of the tunnel. We had lived through the pandemic for almost nine months, and everyone’s hope was to have the vaccine so that we could carry on with our lives. That was the first thought that came to mind.”

One year later: A collaborative approach drives Ottawa’s success

In the year since that historic first dose at The Ottawa Hospital, 82% of eligible residents now have their first two doses, according to Ottawa Public Health.

A collaborative effort amongst Ottawa’s health-care providers is what has made the city’s vaccine rollout a success, explains Axelle. “The unique piece about Ottawa is that all the different hospitals came together to help each other and to help the community.”

Alex praises the efforts of his fellow pharmacy professionals in the community, who are now integral to the vaccine rollout just as they are with administering annual flu vaccines.

“That has really helped our community and our city to get to the rate that we’re at today,” he says. “Ottawa has a very high percentage of the population that’s fully immunized. And it’s all owing to the collective teams and everyone involved in this initiative.”

Ottawa vaccination statistics

The following is the most recent data (as of December 14, 2021) from Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard:  

  • 1,795,306 total doses have been administered in Ottawa.
  • 817,655 Ottawa residents (born in 2016 or earlier) have received two doses.
  • 82% of Ottawa residents (born in 2016 or earlier) have received two doses.

More memories

To hear more stories from that historic day, listen to the latest episode of On Call: The Ottawa Hospital Podcast:


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