Nurse who administered world’s first COVID-19 vaccine returns home

On August 22, 2022, United-Kingdom-based Thomasian nurse Ms. May Richell A. Cestina-Parsons returned to España where she shared her reflections about serving in the health frontlines and some words of advice to aspiring students from the College of Nursing in a press conference at the Rector’s Hall.

UK George Cross Medal awardee carries the Thomasian cross in her journey

In her message, Parsons, who belongs to BS-Nursing Class 2000, acknowledged the Thomasian brand of warmth the moment she set her foot in the campus once again. 

Presently a Modern Matron for Respiratory at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, she looked back at how the University shaped her values and work ethic–the keystone that aided her in conquering many challenges while working miles away from her alma mater and her homeland. “I cannot be more grateful for my time and experience being taught and molded by our professors and our peers in College of Nursing,” Parsons said. “Guided by the strong and indomitable Thomasian culture and values, UST has positively reaffirmed my own personal values and has always encouraged us to work with integrity in everything we do,” she said. 

Parsons also took pride at the reputation of Thomasians as the “cream of the crop” and how the University was proudly represented by countless pioneers which shaped the world in their own Thomasian way. “I would not be here in front of you today, standing proud as a Thomasian nurse, without that constant and consistent guide UST has bestowed upon me during my tenure here, to which I am endlessly indebted,” she said.

Moment of firsts

For all she knew, she narrated, the Covid-19 vaccine was already being deployed somewhere on the same day she was told to administer the jab. December 8, 2020, at around 6 a.m., it was just another day at the job, Parsons thought.

Parsons did not see it coming nor did she expect that she will be the first to inoculate the vaccine in the world, a Pfizer-BioNtech jab that just ended its clinical trial phase, to 90-year old Margaret Keenan, who was also the first recipient.

It was a moment of firsts and the world witnessed history, and the triumph of science and humanity in their screens while isolated in their home, yearning for hope after a series of health-related restrictions and mandates.

Months after, on July 12, 2022, the Thomasian nurse, on behalf of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) and nearly 1.5 million health care workers, was feted by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles themselves with the George Cross Award, the highest recognition bestowed to civilians, at the Windsor Castle.

The prestigious distinction was given in honor of NHS staff’s “courage, compassion, and dedication and bravery despite personal dangers”. It was the third time the George Cross was given in its 74 years of conferment, noted Parsons.

According to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 vaccine global distribution tracker, as of August 22, 2022, around 12.5 billion doses were administered across 184 countries.

‘A gamble not worth taking’

Addressing the vaccine hesitancy in the country, Parsons attested that the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness and safety are backed by science and thorough research. “Please take the vaccine because you are taking a gamble on your health and on how your body’s gonna react, and it’s a gamble not worth taking,” she said, underscoring that each one is still responsible for his/her actions regardless of intensity.

“There is a lot of people relying on you. All those that perished, they are somebody’s mom, they are somebody’s dad, they are somebody’s family. You don’t needlessly have to die. Mayroon na po tayong proteksyon, so please protect yourselves.” she added.

In sponsorship of Resource Finder Recruitment, Parsons’s return to the University was a part of her 10-day visit in Davao, Cebu, and Manila, where she meets with Filipino nurses to equip them with the lessons she garnered in her more than two decades of experience, as well as to fulfill her advocacy in taking the vaccine.

Photos by Hans Lawrence V. Malgapu


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