ROCKFORD, Illinois – SwedishAmerican, a division of UW Health, began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to employees Thursday, bringing hope to many frontline healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly for months during the pandemic.

SwedishAmerican received 1,435 doses of the Ultra Cold Pfizer Vaccine on Wednesday and will be offering the vaccines to its first phase of employees through Sunday, December 20. Following accordance of federal and state guidelines, the first vaccines are being offered to prioritized healthcare employees at the highest risk of work-related exposure to COVID-19.

SwedishAmerican Hospital administered 227 vaccines to employees in the first hour alone Thursday morning. The first SwedishAmerican employee vaccinated was Sara Christiansen-Caiozzo, a registered nurse in the Special Precautions Area who has been caring for COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. An employee at SwedishAmerican for 14 years, Sara had a grandfather who was hospitalized and recovered from COVID-19 in October.

“COVID-19 has affected us all in some way, shape or form as healthcare providers,” Sara said. “I think this gives us hope, and I’m certainly honored to be the first one to receive the vaccine here at Swedes. I hope that this is us turning a corner of this pandemic.”

Also among the first recipients of the vaccine were SwedishAmerican Director of Pharmacy Tom Carey and SwedishAmerican Surgeon-In-Chief Dr. James Cole. Carey’s pharmacy staff worked quickly to prepare the vaccines after they arrived Wednesday afternoon and were up in the early morning hours getting them ready for distribution.

“This is the beginning of moving in the right direction when it comes to us beating this pandemic,” Carey said. “We’ve been reviewing the data and reviewing the process and we have a very good understanding of the science and technology behind this and feel very confident in its safety.”

As of Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health confirmed the total number of COVID-19 cases statewide stands at 870,600 with 14,655 deaths.