The highly anticipated first round of COVID-19 vaccines began arriving at local hospitals this week, an event Dr. Debbie Sukin, the regional senior vice president of Houston Methodist and the CEO of Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital, described as “a feeling of elation.”

The Pfizer vaccine was distributed to hospitals throughout the Houston Methodist System on Dec. 15, and vaccinations began Dec. 16. Houston Methodist's campus in The Woodlands was allocated 975 doses this week, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Community Impact Newspaper spoke with Sukin on Dec. 18 to discuss what these past few days have been like and what the next steps are.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What percentage of Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital staff and employees are expected to get vaccinated, and how many have already been vaccinated?

We’re about 60% that have signed up thus far. We’re doing about 200-250 per day, and I’m excited to say that by the end of today, we’ll have a little over 500 that have been vaccinated, [mainly] our front-line health care workers who interact directly with patients. And what’s really exciting is as a system, we will have vaccinated more than 3,000 by the end of today, and we have more than 11,000 employees and physicians already scheduled for vaccines systemwide.

What is it like for people on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients to be finally lining up to get the vaccine?

Our front-line staff is really eager to get the vaccine. They have taken care of so many patients for months, and we’re so excited to be able to provide the vaccines for our front-line workers who have done so much to our patients. I mean, they are heroes. So this is pretty tremendous for us because our system to date has treated almost 9,000 COVID-19 patients.

It’s been a very emotional and a significant moment for our employees and our physicians. It’s a feeling of elation that there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel. They’re giddy, and at the same time, they’re emotional. It’s been a tough nine months for sure.

When will those vaccinated need to get their second doses?

We are administering the Pfizer vaccine currently, and there is a recommendation to give the second dose between 17 and 21 days.

Is it more critical to first secure second doses for those already vaccinated before administering it to new patients?

We’ve been assured our shipments for second dosing will be secure, so we are obviously taking that into account.

When do you anticipate Houston Methodist The Woodlands will begin administering to personnel such as first responders and nursing homes?

We’re already working with local emergency services districts, nursing homes and federally qualified local health centers such as Lone Star Health Clinic to support them with deployment of the vaccine as we receive delivery in the coming weeks. And it really will be a privilege to help our community when we have ample vaccines. We’re following state and local guidelines on who gets vaccinated first; obviously health care workers first, and then we can focus on those in our community who need it most.