DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dallas County’s only public hospital and one of the country’s largest, Parkland is now distributing its first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to essential healthcare staff.

Frontline staff at the hospital received the vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

TonyChris Nnaka tried to compose himself, while a nurse prepared his left shoulder for an injection he gladly accepted.

“I feel like we finally have something that gives us some level of protection”, he said, as a needle filled with a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine penetrated his skin.

Nnaka, a Critical Care nurse for Parkland Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for Covid-19 patients became one of four staffers receiving the vaccine midday Tuesday.

By days end, more than 200 Parkland staffers assigned to Covid patient care would receive shots.

“It’s very emotional. You would have to be in the Covid unit to know the extent of what this virus can do to you”, Nnaka said.

Since March, 3300 men and women have been hospitalized at Parkland with Covid disease. 229 have died. As part of the national effort to protect medical workers from the virus, Parkland will vaccinate approximately 500 workers per day for the next few weeks.

Parkland Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Chang, who also received a vaccine Tuesday, said he believes the vaccines are the key to eliminating Covid infections and deaths. In all, over 7,000 staffers will receive the vaccine, but Dr. Chang used the initial rollout to urge Dallas’ broader community to accept the vaccine when it becomes available. “This is the way out. The vaccine is the way out. Do it for your neighbor. Do it for everybody “.As early as next week, the Texas Department of State Health Services says it’s prepared for Moderna to begin deliveries of its vaccine.

Doctors warn it will be months before the general public has access, but the Monday’s vaccinations marked a significant first step.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” one North Texas doctor told CBS 11 News.

(credit: Parkland Hospital)

Parkland averages more than 1 million patient visits annually.

Services include a Level I Trauma Center, the second largest civilian burn center in the U.S. and a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The system also includes 20 community-based clinics, including primary care and women’s clinics, 12 school-based clinics and numerous outreach and education programs.

It’s the primary teaching hospital for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Steve Pickett contributed to this report.

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