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The significance of the moment was lost on no one.
Nine months after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, UHN was the site of a historic moment as five long-term care workers became the first in Ontario to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
"Today, really,we turn the corner," Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO, said moments after the workers from the Rekai Centres, UHN-partnered long-term care facilities, received their vaccinations.
"We're really going to start conquering this illness."
Dr. Smith remembered the 13,500 Canadians who have lost their lives to the virus. He also paid tribute to the dedicated workers from Rekai and said UHN is "privileged" to have worked with them to battle COVID-19 "over these challenging months." He thanked both the Canadian and Ontario governments for their support, lauded the scientists who made the vaccine possible in such a short time and thanked members of TeamUHN for all their work in making this day come to fruition.
"This was a victory day for science," Dr. Smith said.
The vaccine was administered at The Michener Institute of Education at UHN, which has been set up as the pilot site to give vaccinations to healthcare workers from long-term care homes across Toronto.
UHN and The Ottawa Hospital were selected by the Province of Ontario as the two sites responsible for piloting the vaccination rollout across Ontario. The pilot is designed to test the systems set up to enable Ontario to vaccinate as many people as possible and what is learned in this pilot will be given in the form of a playbook to all the other centres which come after.
"It's such an emotional day. It's been such a journey for us," Sue Graham-Nutter, CEO of the Rekai Centres, told the crowd in the gymnasium at Michener. "UHN has been with us all through this journey, culminating with the vaccine being given to members of our team and we thank you."
A few minutes earlier, applause echoed through the room as the vaccines were administered.
"I'm so happy and thankful to have been the first to receive this," said Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker (PSW) who joined Rekai in 1988 when it opened, and was first in line on Monday.
Lucky Aguila, a registered practical nurse, who along with Anita works at Rekai's Sherbourne Place facility, said while he was surprised to be among the first to get the vaccine he feels great about it.
"I'm happy that we are being selected so we can protect residents and our families," Lucky said.
Tamara Dus, Director of Health Services at UHN, administered all five vaccinations.
"I've done vaccinations for decades and I'm just so proud to be part of this," Tamara said.