Cenia Bonilla believes it was meant to be that she received the 50,000th dose of vaccine given at Mary Washington Healthcare, then was asked if she could be interviewed and photographed.
She sees herself as a sort of vaccine messenger whose mission is to tell others of the importance of getting inoculated against COVID-19.
“I feel like I was designated the person to be chosen for this moment,” she said. “I feel like God is using me to tell people: Take [COVID-19] seriously. This is not a joke. Be more responsible. Take action and protect your family, your co-workers, your friends, your kids, the elderly.”
Bonilla, 49, teaches driver’s education at Stafford High School and lives in Stafford County with her husband and two children. When she found out she was getting the 50,000th dose at the Fick Conference Center, on the campus of Mary Washington Hospital on Thursday, the native of El Salvador immediately thought of her father.
He died 13 years ago from cancer, and before his death, she tearfully asked why this was happening to him. He told her he’d been chosen for a purpose, and if the medicine doctors tried with him didn’t work, perhaps they’d learn enough to cure someone else.
Bonilla wanted to serve a similar purpose and encourage others, especially fellow Latinos who are hesitant to get vaccinated. Since the pandemic began, Hispanics have been sickened and hospitalized at higher rates than their white counterparts. In the Rappahannock Area Health District, Latinos represent about 11 percent of the population, but 17 percent of those who have tested positive for the virus and 19 percent of those hospitalized.
That’s why Bonilla wants to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.
“Let’s fight the enemy we can’t see,” she said.
Bonilla got her second dose of the Moderna vaccine Thursday, and a party atmosphere marked the health care system’s milestone. Dr. Mike McDermott, CEO, gave her the shot, then she was offered balloons and cupcakes as nearby “cheerleaders” shook pompoms.
“They celebrated like I was some kind of celebrity. The only thing we needed was the red carpet,” she said, laughing when she added: “Just don’t tell the paparazzi my address.”
Mary Washington Healthcare was among the first hospital systems in Virginia to vaccinate its workers in mid-December, then it later opened up a clinic at the Fick center for members of the community. There were some issues and frustrations early on, with thousands of people online at the same time, trying to snag a few hundred slots. Then, the hospital system started working from the lists of those pre-registered with the Rappahannock Area Health District instead of opening a separate appointment system to the community.
Once people got over the hurdle of securing a slot, those vaccinated praised the efficiency of operations. At several virtual town halls and in a press briefing with Gov. Ralph Northam, McDermott noted how proud he was that participants compared the clinic’s operations to the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A restaurants.
He said Thursday marked “an extraordinary milestone” and expressed gratitude to the team—doctors and nurses as well as workers from marketing, finance or other internal departments—for their help in the clinic, before and after completing their shifts.
The vaccination clinic takes place in the Fick Conference Center, named after John Fick III, a retired businessman and former chairman of MWHC’s board of trustees. Fick, 71, saw the clinic in operation for himself and was impressed by the “seamless procedure.”
“The entire experience was very well organized from check-in, parking, temperature taken as I entered the building, directions to the injection area, very nice lady who gave me my shot, then off to the waiting area for 15 minutes,” he said. “Mary Washington Healthcare is doing a fabulous job vaccinating our community.”
Across Virginia, hospitals had administered 659,245 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of a Feb. 16 report.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425