In a burst of jubilance at UCLA Health — an emotional release after months of pandemic trauma — frontline health care workers began receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations today. It was perhaps the most visible sign of hope since the pandemic struck the U.S. early this year.

Staff members applauded and cheered “Woo-hoo!” as the first shots were administered at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, in a large room with booths lined with plastic to separate patients.

Mylar balloons hinted at the celebratory nature of the moment.

“This is better than medical school graduation,” said Dr. Russell Johnson, a UCLA Health physician who works in internal medicine and pediatrics, as applause broke out after he was injected with the first dose of a two-part vaccine.

Dr. Medell Briggs-Malonson, an emergency physician, was the first at UCLA Health to receive the vaccine Wednesday morning. Any nerves she felt about going first evaporated when she arrived at the hospital.

“I had a couple of butterflies, but then actually coming down and really realizing this was going to be the first shot and the first vaccine and then we can hopefully start to return to normalcy, it took all the flutters away,” Briggs-Malonson said. “I’m incredibly excited, I’m very optimistic. I can’t wait to see our country come back to a better new normal.”

About 480 health care workers were expected to be vaccinated at UCLA Health on Wednesday. Many arrived early for their appointments, full of anticipation.

Read the full news release.