AUSTIN (KXAN) — “It’s pretty incredible,” said Dr. Chris Moriates, Dell Medical School’s assistant dean, who is also a physician at the hospital.

UT Health Austin started distributing nearly 3,000 vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

“I felt a little emotional, honestly,” Moriates said, just hours after getting his COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s something that seemed like it would be a long way off, so for it to be here now is really encouraging.”

Dr. Chris Moriates

It’s encouragement for him and his colleagues who have faced COVID-19 head on.

“I’ve seen how it ravages your body completely—every organ system in your body,” said Dr. Ryan Patrick Casey, an anesthesiologist at UT Dell Seton Medical Center.

The University of Texas at Austin and UT Health Austin, the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School, say vaccine recipients include faculty members, staff and students who are actively involved with patients.

“We take care of a lot of sick patients with COVID next door, and so I need protection as do all of my colleagues over there,” Casey said.

A spokesperson for the Dell Medical School says they expect 325 vaccinations Tuesday. They are all on a voluntary basis.

“Working in the emergency department and being exposed to a lot of COVID patients and COVID cases—for me personally, it was a no-brainer,” said Dr. Suprina Dorai, an emergency department physician at Ascension Seton Williamson & Ascension Seton Highland Lakes.

Dr. Amy Young, chief clinical officer at UT Health Austin, says department heads worked together on a vaccination schedule to ensure people who work in the same area don’t get their shot on the same day—instead, staggered out over nine days.

“Everybody has a little bit of a side effect or body reaction, if you will, from a vaccine. Just like you would from flu vaccine or shingles vaccine, and so we want to make sure we keep our health workforce strong and make sure we don’t take out a whole group of individuals that happen to have a body reaction or a side effect,” Young said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

Those side effects include redness or pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache or nausea.

A Dell Medical School spokesperson says UT has 325 appointment slots daily for vaccines. (Photo: UT Austin)

Young said data indicates side effects can be a little worse after the second dose.

“So, we’re actually having to think not only about today, but three weeks from now when folks come back for the second vaccine,” she said.

“I am certainly not fearful for having a little bit of a sore arm, or you know any other reaction that may happen, because I know it could happen, and it’s actually a sign that I’m creating antibodies protected from the virus,” Moriates said.

Healthcare workers say they hope volunteering first will encourage others to follow when they get their chance at the vaccine.

“I am not the type of doctor who’s the first to rush to a new medicine… And yet, I was one of the first in line today to get the vaccine,” Moriates says. “And that’s because I have had the opportunity to really dig in and look at the evidence.”

Right now, it’s not clear if the vaccine protects you from getting COVID-19 or simply reduces the symptoms.

Leaders hope this marks the beginning of the end for the coronavirus pandemic but still urge people to keep distancing and masking up.

“As tragic as it’s been over the last few months, I feel like it’s even more tragic to think about people who are going to die over the next two or three months, this close to the end. That’s just terrible,” Moriates said.

Young says if someone has had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, they can’t get a vaccine, yet. The CDC says reinfection is uncommon during that period, so the idea is to vaccinate people who are more at-risk of catching the virus, first.