GW Hosts National Ceremonial COVID-19 Vaccine Kickoff Event

HHS secretary, U.S. surgeon general joined university medical leadership and the D.C. mayor to launch the nation’s vaccination efforts, witness the first GW health care workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

HHS secretary Alex Azar
HHS Secretary Alex Azar ceremonially launched the federal government's COVID-19 vaccination efforts at GW Hospital. (Photos: William Atkins/GW Today)
December 14, 2020

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams held a press conference at GW Hospital Monday with university medical leadership and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for the official federal government kick off of the United States’ COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The event included School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dean Barbara L. Bass, who is also vice president for health affairs and CEO of the GW Medical Faculty Associates; Bruno Petinaux, chief medical officer at GW Hospital; William Borden, chief quality and population health officer at the GW Medical Faculty Associates;Kimberly Russo, CEO of the hospital, and the first group of hospital health care staff who received the vaccination.

In welcoming the group, Dr. Bass noted that GW Hospital received its first shipment of the vaccine Monday morning, describing the delivery as “our hope for a healthier future.” She said she is particularly proud of “all the contributions” of GW faculty, researchers staff who have worked toward developing a vaccine.

“They have been brave,” Dr. Bass said. “Now, we are part of history. We are all part of the solution to end this pandemic.”

Mr. Azar also thanked the team of doctors, researchers and scientists at GW for their part in research related to COVID-19 vaccines and called the start of administering the vaccination “an extraordinary major achievement that our country has delivered this week."

“We are making a ceremonial kickoff here…representative of what’s taking place across America today,” Mr. Azar said. “I am so delighted to be here at GW to see our heroic health care providers” get vaccinated. “Hope and help are on the way.”

GW Hospital was among scores of facilities that started receiving allotments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday, part of about 3 million initial doses that are being distributed nationwide for several days.

Separately, GW is a trial site for another COVID-19 vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. The Food and Drug Administration is set hear Moderna’s application for emergency use of the Moderna vaccine on Thursday.

Dr. Adams, the surgeon general, called the vaccination launch “truly a historic day, nothing short of revolutionary. I hope everyone appreciates the history of this moment.

“The finish line to this marathon is in sight,” said Dr. Adams, who also urged people to get flu shots now as well as the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available. “We should be proud of this day and also be dogged in our pursuit of equity” in health care. Those with doubts about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccination, he continued, should “ask your doctor if you have questions.”


Raymond Pla

Raymond Pla, an anesthesiologist at the GW Medical Faculty Associates and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was among the first five health care workers at GW Hospital to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.


The first vaccine recipients at GW Hospital, who were selected based on an algorithm that considers age, exposure risk and other factors were:

  • Barbara Neiswander, an emergency medicine nurse
  • Raymond Pla, an anesthesiologist at the GW Medical Faculty Associates and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Sheetal Sheth, a medical director of labor and delivery at GW Medical Faculty Associates and an assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Shylee Stewart, a labor and delivery nurse at GW Hospital
  • Sean Chester, an emergency medicine physician at the GW Medical Faculty Associates and clinical instructor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Dr. Pla, who is Black, said he thought it was important for him to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a public setting to help lessen the mistrust present among some in Black and other communities that could make them reluctant to get vaccinated.

“It’s important for them to see people who look like me get the vaccine,” Dr. Pla said. “It might make them feel more comfortable about getting the vaccine.”

Ms. Bowser, the D.C. mayor, congratulated GW officials on the “Herculean scientific effort” of which the university has been a part. She said that earlier she had been with the first D.C. government employees to be vaccinated, members of D.C. Fire and EMS.

“They said they are [getting vaccinated] for their city, for their families,” Ms. Bowser said, “so they can safely go home every day after work on the front lines.”

All of the speakers at the event made sure to remind people to continue wearing masks, washing their hands frequently and maintaining safe distances from each other.

“We need every one of you to practice responsible behaviors,” Mr. Azar said. “We want everyone that is here now to be here for the next holiday season.”

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