Tears came to his eyes as Mubarak Dawaki, MD, received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but it had nothing to do with the needle poke in his arm.

“I became very emotional as I thought of all these patients we have lost and of the people who have lost loved ones because they didn’t have the opportunity to get this vaccine,” said Dr. Dawaki, a hospitalist at Spectrum Health Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals.

“I feel really blessed to be able to get the second shot.”

Three weeks ago, Dr. Dawaki was among the first five health care providers at Spectrum Health who received the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, the health care providers rolled up their sleeves to receive the second dose of the vaccine.

“It presents a way forward,” said Yvette Kamana, RN, a nurse who works in the intensive care unit. “It gives hope in the future—that 2021 will be a better year than 2020, healthwise.”

For pulmonologist Marc McClelland, MD, the vaccine brings a sense of optimism.

“It’s a huge peace of mind (for me), to know that I may have more protection,” he said. “It feels good.”

Following federal health recommendations, he will continue to wear a face mask and social distance from others in public.

“We don’t know yet if people who have had the vaccine can carry the virus to others,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities receive the first shots.

More than 11,000 Spectrum Health team members have received the vaccine since Dec. 14, the first day it became available after receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Since it was identified in late 2019, the COVID-19 virus has infected more than 20 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 350,000, according to the CDC.

The vaccine represents a major milestone in efforts to combat the virus, Dr. McClelland said.

“I think this is the start of the turning of the tide,” he said. “We still have a ways to go and a lot more vaccines to get out there. But this is a good start.”

Dr. Dawaki said he hopes his experience will encourage others to consider getting the vaccine.

The virus can be unpredictable, he said.

“You can’t predict who is going to have a bad reaction to the virus,” he said. “Some people are healthy, and they have a bad outcome.”

He had minor side effects after receiving the first injection.

“I had a sore arm around the injection site,” he said. “And I had some really mild hot flashes and a headache that lasted a couple of hours.

“I would rather be sick for one day with some muscle aches and hot flashes than to have the virus.”

Dr. McClelland also encourages patients and community members to get the vaccine once it is available to them.

“I tell them my own experience was very positive. And the studies and the science suggest it is beneficial and safe,” he said.

“I would certainly say to reach out to your doctor and discuss your own personal situation. But I think the right answer for most people will be to get the vaccine.”