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'I am the face of COVID' | Houston doctor among first to get Moderna's vaccine

More than 6,000 doses are heading to Houston, so who's getting it and how soon?

HOUSTON — Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine began arriving Monday at some of the dozens of Houston-area hospitals and clinics scheduled to receive it this week.

That includes at United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston.

Dr. Joseph Varon, the hospital’s chief medical officer, opened the box containing Moderna’s vaccine in front of reporters Monday morning. It’s the first COVID-19 vaccine shipment received by UMMC.

"It's like having gold,” said Dr. Varon, holding one of the vaccine packages. “More than having any amount of money in your hand.”

Varon said he received enough vaccine for 100 employees Monday morning. Frontline workers in the COVID unit will get the shot first. On Monday afternoon, Varon was one of them.

“I am the face of COVID,” Varon said moments after getting vaccinated. “I have been all over the news on COVID, and I think it’s important that people understand that this is a safe vaccine. Not only this one but any of the other ones that have been approved by the FDA. If people are seeing what I’m doing, maybe I’ll be able to convince some of them to forget about that fear.”

The City of Houston will also be getting 6,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Those doses will be split evenly between the Houston Health Department and the Houston Fire Department. They’ll go to frontline health workers.

“The support operations, the functions that are filled by support personnel, at this moment don’t qualify,” said HFD Chief Sam Peña during a news conference Monday afternoon. “But as soon as the decision is made for the Phase 1 Bravo group to be eligible, then we’ll be prepared to administer those.”

Peña said HFD has the equipment needed to store those vaccines and a plan to administer the shots to employees wanting them.

More than 1,100 providers in 185 Texas counties are expected the get shipments of the vaccine this week.