I was the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware. I was nervous, but as a nurse I hope to set an example for why people should get vaccinated.

  • Elisabeth Cote is a 39-year-old nurse in the progressive care unit at Bayhealth Hospital's Kent Campus in Kent County, Delaware.
  • She was the first person in the state to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 15. 
  • Tuesday marked 330 days since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US. In that time, the pandemic has led to more than 300,000 deaths across the country, recently surpassing 3,000 deaths per day.
  • Cote says she was initially nervous about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but knew through her experience caring for COVID-19 patients, many of whom passed away, that she didn't want to be someone who contracted the virus and passed it to anyone else.
  • This is her story, as told to freelance writer Taylor Goebel.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday morning at 5:30 a.m., just hours after my shift in Bayhealth Hospital's progressive care unit, I headed back to work to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware. 

I walked into a nondescript room in the hospital's basement past a line of my colleagues, doctors and other frontline workers, waiting their turn. 

I'd received a call from our hospital administration on Monday evening to ask if I would be the first COVID-19 vaccine recipient in Delaware. 

Delaware had pre-ordered over 8,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, 975 of which arrived at our hospital on Kent Campus and were ready to be distributed to employees.

Our media coordinator, Danielle Pro-Hudson, said I'd been a great steward for Bayhealth, and that's why they wanted me to be first and help tell the story of why the COVID-19 vaccine is important. 

I was nervous at first, but excited to represent Bayhealth — especially my unit, which was the hospital's original COVID-19 floor and has had coronavirus patients every day since the pandemic hit Delaware in March.

I was excited to join in the next phase of stopping the virus, beyond my job just trying to help people who have gotten sick. 

After entering the vaccination room, I sat down in a grey chair, signed my name on a vaccine document and lifted the left sleeve of my "Progressive Care Unit" t-shirt. 

Angeline Dewey, Bayhealth's education director, used a wipe to disinfect my skin as she prepared to administer the vaccine. We both took a deep breath as she readied the shot for my left arm. 

Other than a few camera flashes, my experience was standard for a vaccine: There was the cold wet of the disinfecting wipe, and the slight sting of the shot in my deltoid muscle. 

Dewey smoothed a bandage over my arm, and then I left the room as the next healthcare worker walked in. The long-awaited process took less than five minutes.

I didn't feel any immediate side effects, other than my arm feeling slightly sore throughout the day, like a flu shot. 

Besides me, 84 other Bayhealth employees have also received the vaccine so far. 

Nerves and excitement aside, I mostly felt relief after I received the vaccine. The virus isn't going away forever, but the prick in my arm feels like a big step forward. 

With the distribution of the vaccine, I'm hoping that people will soon not only be protected from the virus, but that they'll also be able to go back to living their lives again. The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, especially with stay at home and isolation orders. My own three kids are eager to head back to school in person. 

Read more: Employers are flooding labor lawyers' inboxes to ask if they can make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory in the workplace. Here's the advice 6 lawyers are giving clients.

I know that getting a vaccine can feel like a really personal choice. It's something new, and new can be scary.

I can understand why some people are hesitant about getting the vaccine.  I've been a nurse for four and a half years, and in the beginning I also debated on whether or not to get vaccinated right away. I wasn't strong-willed in saying, 'Yes, I'm going to do it.' But then, I saw more and more patients who had contracted COVID-19 from family members, and passed away. 

I held the hands of several COVID-19 patients this year, making sure they weren't alone when they died. The family member of one patient told me her greatest fear was that her loved one would die in distress. I promised her that wouldn't happen.

The patients we lose — that stays with us. I have all of their names in my mind.

I did not want to be that person who contracted the virus and gave it to my family, or colleagues, or anyone else, especially since I was given the opportunity to avoid it. 

Back in the spring, I wasn't sure if the first COVID-19 patient who arrived at our progressive care unit was going to survive. She'd been at the hospital for several weeks, struggling to beat a new and deadly virus that doctors and scientists were all racing to understand. 

But that first patient pushed through, and we nurses were able to hold a small celebration the day she left. We played music on our phones and applauded her as we took her out downstairs. 

With the rollout of the vaccine, I'm looking forward to helping many more patients return home to their loved ones.

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