The shipment of the century rolled into Cook County Health Thursday morning loaded with anticipation. Every step had to be executed down to the second, carefully unloaded into ultra-cold storage. A few precious vials were left out to thaw.
"Today is different for me because it's almost a renewed hope, because we have this virus and it's almost like a light at the end of the tunnel," said Tracy Everett, who has spent months taking in the sickest patients at Cook County's Stroger Hospital. "The things that's going through my mind right now is just that I'm happy that we've come to this point."
Without hesitation, Everett rolled up her sleeve, and with 9 months of anticipation, got her first real shot of relief. Dr. Pilar Guerrero eagerly followed seconds later.
"It's not a lot of pain there, but I know something went in," Everett said. "But I feel great."
"It was exciting. I couldn't even talk," Dr. Guerrero said. "Someone tried to ask me questions afterwards and I was like, my stomach, just feeling it."
When they return to work in the emergency room this weekend, undoubtedly to treat more COVID patients, it will be the first time in months things feel just a little different.
"It lowers our stress level because this is a vaccination that will protect us from this virus. Not just the people I work with, but the people in the community that we service."
Cook county Health plans to begin mass vaccination on Friday, inoculating about another 80 employees.
WATCH: COVID vaccinations begin at Roseland Community Hospital
Several miles south in Chicago's hard-hit Roseland Community Hospital, the first COVID vaccines were injected into the arms of vulnerable hospital engineers and housekeepers.
The Far South Side hospital has enough doses to vaccinate all employees, but they are beginning with five.
Dan Moriarty, a hospital engineer responsible for converting regular patient rooms into COVID rooms, was among them.
"I'm a little nervous, but I'm kind of excited to start getting back to normal," Moriarty said.
Housekeeper Linda Seaverson helps clean COVID patients' rooms. She also is among the first to receive the vaccine.
"It's real important for everybody, from young to old," Seaverson said.
Because there has been some reluctance among employees to take the vaccine, Roseland CEO Tim Egan said it was important to begin vaccinating with a variety of workers so they can educate others.
"When you get to support services like our housekeeping, it shows that they are valuable like everyone else in this family providing services for patients," Egan said. They want to get vaccinated, too."
Doctors on the frontline are eager to get the vaccination ball rolling, especially since the Roseland community has been hit hard by COVID-19. The death rate is 67 percent higher than the city average.
A portion of the emergency room has been converted into an ICU. ER Dr. Tunji Lapido received the vaccine Thursday as well.
"People don't have all the facts," Dr. Lapido said. "We, as professionals, have to be able to get that information out to people. We have to convince people, we are determined to that."