CHICAGO (CBS) — There was a major sign of hope Sunday on the battle against the coronavirus, as the first boxes of COVID-19 vaccine were packed up and shipped out from the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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Trucks escorted by police are taking the shipments on the road – heading for cities across the nation, including Chicago.

Among the first on the list for the vaccine are those on the front lines of the pandemic – Chicago area hospital workers.

CBS 2’s Marissa Parra spoke to six different health care workers who are all slated to get the vaccine in a matter of days. They all have different job titles and work all across the Chicago area.

Parra got a little temperature check on how they are feeling.

“I’m getting the vaccine on Wednesday at 5:30, and I’m super-stoked,” said Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, associate professor of clinical medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Just 11 days ago, CBS 2’s Chris Tye spoke with Dr. Bosslet about the exhaustion for health care staffers putting in well over 14-hour workdays for months.

The pandemic has been painful, mentally and physically, for everyone.

“The emotional trauma, the anxiety, the fear has tremendous effect on my patients; on their families,” said Northwest Indiana pediatrician Dr. Lamia Katbi.

“Seeing these patients and their struggle and caring for them is really difficult. The hospitalizations are long and they don’t always end up where we want them to,” Bosslet said. “When you lose a patient with COVID, it takes a definite toll.”

Thus, watching trucks loaded with vaccines rolling out Sunday morning was like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

“The primary emotion that I feel is hope, which is something that we haven’t felt in many, many months,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, medical director of infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Aurora Health.

“It’s our moonshot,” Bosslet said. “I mean, it’s our generation’s man on the moon, and I think to think of it any other way is to do it a disservice.”

For Elizabeth Berch, a phlebotomist at Northwestern Medicine, the hope – and the fear surrounding the pandemic – are personal.

“I live at home with two immunocompromised people,” she said. “I worry every time I come home.”

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The skepticism hovering over the vaccine in parts of the country is not lost on the medical workers.

“I know people are fearful,” Katbi said. “I understand, I really do.”

“It’s okay to question, you know, these things, what’s going into your body,” said medical logistics specialist David Earl Williams III. “But I would say that, you know, a lot of people were doing that when polio was around and people were dying at a large rate.”

Williams said skepticism within marginalized populations is understandable in particular, given that injections have been used abusively and inhumanely in the past – but much has changed.

“Long ago, the government was injecting African-Americans with syphilis to see the effects of it,” he said. “We’ve come a long way from that.”

Citronberg emphasized that any side effects from a vaccine would pale in comparison to the possible consequences of getting infected.

“Most side effects from immunizations occur within the first few weeks,” he said. “There are many long-term side effects from having had COVID if you survive it. It’s not just a matter of dying from COVID. It’s living with it.”

Of the risks of not taking the vaccine, Williams noted the case of Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate who died of COVID-19 in July.

“Look at the people who have passed away from COVID – Herman Cain, who beat cancer but died from COVID,” he said.
The medical professionals look at being among the first in the United States to roll up their sleeves – literally – as a welcome service to their country.

“I did not go into medicine not to be a pioneer in what I do,” Katbi said. “I think just by me taking the vaccine, I think that will build more trust.”

“American society doesn’t call on us often to sacrifice. I think back on my grandfathers who volunteered to fight in World War II. Their sacrifice was far greater than me rolling up my sleeve to have a small needle put in,” Bosslet said. “But the symbolism of it is the same. It is undertaking risk so that Americans and humanity at large can finally have this behind us.”

He added: “Vaccines don’t save people. Vaccinations save people.”

“The sooner I get vaccinated, the sooner everyone else gets vaccinated, the sooner we’ll be able to go back to normal,” Berch said.

The doses in those trucks that left Kalamazoo will sent to 145 centers across the country. The first shipment expected to arrive in Chicago is scheduled to carry roughly 23,000 doses.

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