Front-line nurse Sandra Lindsay became the first New Yorker to receive the coronavirus vaccine outside trials on Monday at the start of a campaign in what was once the global centre of the pandemic.
Ms Lindsay was administered the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre in Queens, New York, in an online event that included comments from the state's governor Andrew Cuomo.
The intensive care nurse, wearing a face mask and seated in a hospital chair, joined those assembled in clapping after receiving her jab.
"It didn't feel any different from taking any other vaccine," she said. "I feel hopeful today. Relieved. I feel like healing is coming.
“I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. I want to instil public confidence that the vaccine is safe. We are in a pandemic so we all have to do our part.”
Mr Cuomo thanked Ms Lindsay and other heroes for their efforts in helping Covid-19 patients during the pandemic and urged other New Yorkers to get jabs to stop the virus in its tracks.
“This vaccine is exciting,” the governor said. “I believe this is the weapon that will end the war.”
Northwell Health, the largest hospital system in the state, said the first vaccine recipients – Ms Lindsay and a doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital – had worked tirelessly since the virus broke out in New York 10 months ago.
“It is their hope that their willingness to be among the first to be vaccinated in the region will serve as an example to the general public to take advantage of this life-saving treatment,” it said.
The pandemic ravaged New York state, infecting 781,000 people, killing 35,000 and severely weakening the economy. The nationwide toll is 16,400,000 cases and almost 300,000 deaths from the virus.
The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, won emergency-use approval from federal regulators last week after it was found to be 95 per cent effective in preventing illness in a clinical trial.
The first 2.9 million doses began to be shipped to transit centres around the US on Sunday, about 11 months after the country documented its first cases of a disease that was first recorded in central China last year.
US President Donald Trump celebrated on social media, telling his 88.6 million followers: “First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!”
Hospitals in Texas, Utah and Minnesota were expecting to receive the first doses of the vaccine on Monday. The doses were shipped around the country on Sunday using dry ice to maintain the necessary subarctic temperatures.
More healthcare workers are expected to receive the vaccine in the days ahead.
“I’m optimistic and I’m kind of excited to be getting it,” said Kyle Monahan, a radiation therapist in Washington, DC, who is slated to receive the first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday
“It’s kind of a privilege to be one of the first people to get it,” he added.
Mr Monahan said he does not expect any immediate changes to his work or lifestyle until more Americans become vaccinated in the coming months but called it “a step in the right direction.”
“I don’t think anything would change right away,” said Mr Monahan. “I think we’d still have to wear a mask and at my job we’d still have to wear the standard PPE.”
“This is the most difficult vaccine roll-out in history,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Monday.
“There will be hiccups undoubtedly, but we’ve done everything from a federal level and are working with partners to make it go as smoothly as possible. Please be patient with us.”