Texas Baptists hospital chaplain among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Houston

by Bonnie Shaw on December 15, 2020 in News

On Wednesday, Dec. 16, Texas Baptists-endorsed chaplain and River Ministry missionary Silvia Briones will be one of the first people in Texas to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

Briones serves as a chaplain at Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital (HMWH), where she is part of the Code Blue team, who respond to cardiac arrest emergencies in the hospital. Because of the team’s close contact to patients, they are in the first tier of health care workers eligible for the vaccine in Texas. Others in the first tier include those who serve on intubation teams, in the Intensive Care Unit and in the Emergency Department. 

Hospital personnel in the first tier of vaccine candidates were given the option to sign up for the first round of vaccinations at HMWH. Briones explained that she signed up for the first round because she wanted to set an example of faith for the rest of the hospital. 

“As a chaplain I'm here to help people get peace from God that they need, because right now there’s a lot of nervousness going on. We need that peace. And I hope that by being willing to get the vaccine first, I can pass on some peace to other people, so that people can trust– not just whoever made it or distributed it– but God. Trust that God has given wisdom to all the scientists to do it correctly and to test it enough to deliver it to the public,” Briones said.

Briones admitted that she was a little nervous about getting the vaccine herself, as are many. However, she has decided to trust God with the future and trust that He has given the world the cure that so many have been praying for.

“I know I’ve been praying for it, and I know everyone else has too,” she said. “So I am holding onto that belief that God has sent us the right vaccine. So it’s an answer to our prayers, and  now that it’s here am I going to say no? I’m going to say yes because I’m choosing to believe that God has sent us this vaccine.”

As a chaplain, Briones provides emotional support during Code Blues. She accompanies any visitors out of the room, though due to COVID-19, visitors are restricted. If no one is present, Briones calls the family and walks them through what their loved one is experiencing. 

“I help the nurse or whoever is in charge locate the family by phone and tell them what’s happening and help them come to the hospital if they can. I will wait for them and greet them and bring them to their relative, or if they can’t come, they make decisions over the phone,” Briones said.

The Code Blue team works closely together in direct contact with the patient. Briones explained that this puts them in a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 from patients as they work to save their lives, even with personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We usually know if the patient has COVID or not, but sometimes we don’t know if their test results haven’t come yet. We will be working in direct contact with the patients regardless of knowing if they have COVID or not, “ Briones explained.

In addition to her work on the Code Blue team, Briones also prays and meets with patients, either in person or over the phone, depending on their COVID-19 results, health and spiritual needs.

Following her vaccination, Briones will still need to wear full PPE gear, social distance and follow other COVID-19 protocols. Like the flu vaccine, this vaccine cannot 100% block her from getting the virus. A majority of the population will need to get the vaccine before herd immunity is reached, Dr. Dirk Sostman of Houston Methodist explained. Furthermore, a second booster shot will need to be administered a few weeks after the initial dose.

Still, Briones is encouraged that this vaccine will allow her to more safely minister to the patients and hospital staff around her. She is hopeful that this is the start of the pandemic’s end.

“God is handing us a relief for this pandemic,” she said. “It’s going to take time but it’s going to happen. That’s what we’ve been praying for.”

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