‘I'm Tearing Up Right Now': UC San Diego Doctor Helps With Vaccine Distribution

“Honestly, for me, I’m tearing up right now,” Dr. Marlene Millen, MD, of UC San Diego Health, told NBC 7. “It’s a very emotional moment.”


A UC San Diego doctor helping with San Diego County’s strategy to distribute the coronavirus vaccine felt a wave of emotion Tuesday as, finally, she saw some light at the end of the dark, long pandemic tunnel.

Dr. Marlene Millen, MD, is an Internal Medicine Physician and Primary Care Physician with UC San Diego Health. She’s also the doctor in charge of distributing the freshly-arrived Pfizer vaccine at the facility – one of many receiving a combined 28,000 doses this week in San Diego County (not counting the doses received by Naval Medical Center San Diego).

The U.S. Navy in San Diego received its own batch of vaccines. Doses will be doled out starting today. NBC 7's Nicole Gomez reports.

At 7:14 a.m. Tuesday, UC San Diego Health received its first shipment of 2,925 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.

It was a moment about 10 months in the making – and one that Millen would never forget.

“Honestly, for me, I’m tearing up right now,” Dr. Marlene Millen, MD, of UC San Diego Health, told NBC 7. “It’s a very emotional moment.”

It's a very emotional moment.

Dr. Marlene Millen, MD, UC San Diego Health

Cheers were heard at UC San Diego Health as the vaccine arrived.

Dr. Davey Smith is hopeful at what the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine means for the future of the fight for the pandemic. On Tuesday, he will be among the first in San Diego County to receive a dose of the vaccine. But, he adds, it doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Back in February, Millen took care of patients at UC San Diego Medical Center who had returned to San Diego from Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis was just beginning to reach San Diego County. What would follow, at that point, was unimaginable.

“I still remember walking into the command center that first time many, many months ago, not knowing what was in the future,” Millen told NBC 7. “And how things have unfolded, how we’re in a surge now.”

Millen said she’s seen “patient after patient” of hers testing positive for COVID-19. She said trying to work in health care during a pandemic has been nothing short of amazing.

And now, the vaccination challenge lies ahead.

But it’s one that Millen is more than happy to take on.

Millen said UC San Diego Health’s initial plan is to distribute these 2,925 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to frontline health care workers and staff throughout this week and the weekend.

“We’re going to try to target about 600 folks a day and, as much as we can, ramp it up,” she explained.

Millen said some side effects from the vaccination – as with any vaccination – are to be expected.

“I always tell my patients, ‘Hey, when you get the vaccine, if you feel kind of lousy tomorrow, that’s a great sign that it’s going to protect you,’” she said.

The doctor said those who receive the vaccine should expect sore arms and low-grade fevers as part of the side effects.

What's Next for Vaccinations in San Diego County?

While Millen was hopeful and overjoyed by the arrival of the vaccine in San Diego, the doctor knows it’s not the end of the pandemic.

“Just like when that first plane (from Wuhan) came in, we knew that was just the beginning,” she said. “And this is the beginning of the end, we hope. So now we’re going to be handing out the vaccine as quickly as we can but one thing, unfortunately, no matter how fast we do it, we can’t vaccinate all America in the next month or two.”

Just like when that first plane (from Wuhan) came in, we knew that was just the beginning. And this is the beginning of the end, we hope.

Dr. Marlene Millen, MD, UC San Diego Health

Millen said the vaccination process will take many months so, in the meantime, she pleaded the public to keep wearing face masks, practice social distance and not gather in big groups for the holidays – as difficult and sad as that is.

UC San Diego Health said frontline health care workers receiving the vaccine this week include those with the greatest exposure to COVID-19 patients, such as emergency department staff, trauma staff, respiratory therapists and personnel with face-to-face patient care in urgent care clinics.

“Our goal is to vaccinate as many employees as quickly as possible, depending upon supplies and evolving circumstances,” said Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. “With subsequent vaccine shipments from Pfizer and as other vaccines, such as Moderna, come online, we will expand the opportunity to vaccinate to all health system employees, our patients and communities beyond. We are determined to do this as safely and effectively, as rapidly and methodically, as we can.”

Other hospitals around San Diego County that have or will receive the coronavirus vaccine this week include Rady Children’s Hospital and Naval Medical Center San Diego, which planned to vaccinate its first San Diegans Tuesday.

Several local hospitals are getting a chunk of San Diego County's 28,000 vaccines to distribute to their critical care staff. NBC 7's Audra Stafford reports.

On Wednesday, UC San Diego Health plans to start administering the vaccine along with Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, and Kaiser Permanent’s Grantville location.

On Thursday, Scripps Health and Kaiser Permanente in Kearny Mesa will start their vaccinations.

Millen said her name is on a list at UC San Diego Health, and she hopes to get her vaccine in about a week-and-a-half.

“Trust me – I’ll be right there,” she said. “I’m going to video it! Roll up my sleeve – I’m very excited.”

The United States began its rollout of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday. Hear from health leaders across the country as frontline workers began receiving their vaccinations.

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