Nursing student Kendra Mack-Semler was all smiles and a bundle of nervous energy, seated at one of 24 stations in the School of Nursing’s Hurd Auditorium.

In the foyer a few yards away, Adelita G. Cantu, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing, signed in and was cleared to go.

When the two met close to 1 p.m. Dec. 15, surrounded by media and an assortment of cheering friends and colleagues, it was instant history. Mack-Semler, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in nursing next May, became the first person to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at UT Health San Antonio. And Dr. Cantu was the first to roll up her sleeve and receive the injection.

UT Health San Antonio officials prepare to administer the first COVID-19 vaccine surrounded by media and an assortment of cheering friends and colleagues.
UT Health San Antonio made history Dec. 15 when the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the university was administered to front-line health care workers, physicians, nurses and students.

UT Health San Antonio was one of only four sites in Texas to receive the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine Dec. 14. The university received 5,850 doses, which gained emergency use authorization Dec. 10 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Front-line health care workers, physicians, nurses and students who interact with possible COVID-19 patients received the first shots.

“It’s hope in a vial to me,” nursing student Mack-Semler said of the vaccine. “It’s a privilege to be a part of this, part of getting back to normalcy. It’s an honor for me.”

Dr. Cantu, whose specialty is public health initiatives, said, “It’s wonderful to be the first of many. We all have to play our part, and I was just going for that one tiny part by getting vaccinated. Hopefully this will lead to other people getting it, inspire others to come do their part. I’m just grateful to have gotten it.”

Dr. Cantu said she thinks it is significant that a nurse was the first to receive the vaccine because of how directly nurses work and interact with patients. Nurses “get people to trust medicine,” she said, adding that vaccines are the way out of the pandemic.

The vaccinations will continue for the next several days at the Hurd Auditorium. The first priority will be given to 5,100 health care workers, including 1,300 people who work with COVID-19-positive patients daily and 900 essential workers, emergency responders and others who support the university’s infrastructure. After health care workers and first responders, other employees with multiple underlying serious health conditions at risk for severe COVID disease and personnel and patients of UT Health San Antonio with at least one serious health condition will follow.

The Pfizer vaccine regimen consists of two doses administered 17 to 21 days apart.

The vaccines are being administered in the School of Nursing through a large, collaborative process including hundreds of people across the university. The School of Nursing’s Wellness 360, in conjunction with the Department of Pathology in the Long School of Medicine, also continues to offer COVID-19 testing to faculty, staff and students.

Sal McKeel, a registered nurse and manager of clinical workflow at UT Health Physicians, leaves the Hurd Auditorium after receiving the vaccine.
Sal McKeel, a registered nurse and manager of clinical workflow at UT Health Physicians, also received the vaccine Dec. 15.

Another staff member to receive the vaccine was Sal McKeel, a registered nurse and manager of clinical workflow at UT Health Physicians. Since June, McKeel has spent most days administering coronavirus tests at a drive-thru location at the Medical Arts and Research Center. He spent Tuesday morning swabbing 17 people before heading to the Hurd Auditorium to get his own shot.

McKeel said he’s never been too concerned about getting the virus himself because of all the personal protective equipment he wears and precautions he takes, but with numbers increasing by the day, it’s a little scary now. He worries about his friends, his wife. And about his mother, who’s 84.

“This pandemic is like a war where you don’t really see the enemy,” he said. “It comes at you from all directions. This is a big day, a big day for UT Health San Antonio. To get these vaccines here so quickly, it’s just fantastic.”