Some of the medical centers that have endured the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States found the gloom that has long filled their corridors replaced by elation and hope on Monday as health care workers became the first to take part in a mass vaccination campaign aimed at ending the pandemic.
Hundreds of those who have been on the front lines of fighting Covid-19 — a nurse from an intensive care unit in New York, an emergency room doctor from Ohio, a hospital housekeeper in Iowa — received inoculations in emotional ceremonies watched by people around the country.
“I feel like healing is coming,” said Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nursing director who was among the first health care workers to be vaccinated on Monday morning, at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens.
The vaccinations came as the nation surpassed 300,000 coronavirus deaths, a toll larger than any other country. Even as applause rang out at hospitals, many intensive care units remained near capacity.
Plunking down in chairs and rolling up their sleeves were physicians, nurses, aides, cleaners and at least one chief executive who said he was getting the vaccine early to encourage everyone on his staff to do the same.
Dr. Jason Smith, the first Kentuckian to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, showed off the smiley-face Band-Aid a health care worker applied to his arm. “Didn’t even feel it,” he said.
A group of nuns in Sioux Falls, S.D., blessed the vaccine as it arrived, before it was whisked into a freezer.
Seth Jackson, a nurse in Iowa City, found himself crying on the way to the hospital to get his shot. Robin Mercier, a Rhode Island nurse, rejoiced in feeling one step closer to being able to kiss her grandchild.
For many Americans who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, the vaccination rollout was bittersweet. It did not come soon enough for Mary Smith’s husband, Mike, who died from the virus in November at the age of 64.
“It was so close,” Ms. Smith, who lives outside Peoria, Ill., said on Monday.
She voiced frustration with people who said they did not trust the vaccine. “These people who say, ‘I’m not getting it,’ all I can say is, ‘Why? Have you lost your mind?’” Ms. Smith added. “Have you not seen how many people have died? This is real.’”