Thomasian nurse who administered world’s first COVID jab comes home to UST

May Cestina-Parsons, the nurse who made history by delivering the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine and who recently received the George Cross Award at Windsor Castle, was welcomed home to UST on August 22, 2022.

UST Vice Rector Rev. Fr. Isaias D. Tiongco, O.P., JCD., presented Parsons with a Certificate of Commendation during the courtesy call. It would be remembered that in December 2020, Parsons was chosen to administer the first COVID-19 jab because she held a three-year consecutive record for having given the most flu vaccines, with a personal best of vaccinating 140 patients in a single day.

A press conference with Parsons at the Rector’s Hall was also held. Gracing the event were UST College of Nursing Regent Rev. Fr. Julius Paul Factora, O.P.; College of Nursing Dean Prof. Rowena Escolar Chua, Ph.D.; Office for Alumni Relations Director Asst. Prof. Fredeswindo Medina; UST Alumni Association President Dr. Evelyn Songco; Nursing Alumni Association President Dr. Carl Balita; and Office of Public Affairs Director Asst. Prof. Joreen T. Rocamora, Ph.D., who all expressed their heartfelt support and admiration for Parsons.

“We thank you, Ms. Parsons, for this opportunity of a personal encounter. Through your sharing and engagement with our alumni, students, and officials, may we all be inspired in whatever means to continue contributing to the University’s mission of spreading light to others through prayers, study, research, and service,” said UST Secretary-General Rev. Fr. Louie R. Coronel, O.P., EHL.

Dean Escolar Chua commended Parsons and welcomed her back to UST, saying, “Ms. May is truly an inspiration to a lot of people, but most especially to Filipino nurses working around the world. Nursing requires a lot of hard work, sacrifices, dedication, and most importantly compassion, but it’s something that is very rewarding because we are allowed the opportunity to take care of people and touch their lives. The recognition given to Ms. May is actually a testament to her living out the core values of UST – a competent, committed, and compassionate nurse.”

Thanking UST for their warm homecoming celebration, Parsons shared that her Thomasian journey, which began in 1996, consisted of “utter excitement, countless sleepless nights of revision and life-changing experiences that completely derailed my plans, but brought me to where I am meant to be.”

“I cannot be more grateful for my time and experience being taught and molded by our professors and our peers in the College of Nursing, 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,” Parsons said.

Sharing her experiences on the front lines of the pandemic, Parsons said, “I felt helpless and scared, a feeling echoed by many health workers around the globe. The cost of human lives was heart and soul shattering, to say the least, but my very strong Thomasian and Filipino values aided me in overcoming my challenges. Despite being a modern matron (akin to a divisional manager), this has never stopped me from being redeployed to ITU, where I spent six weeks looking after patients. I was the only matron there, but I thought about what I can give and do to help, and as a Filipino Thomasian nurse, there’s no job that’s beneath me. If I can help in any way, shape or form, I will do it.”

This hard working mindset led her to the historic moment of being chosen to administer the world’s first COVID-19 jab. She was initially unaware that the vaccine she would end up administering to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan was the first in the world, Parsons shared, saying that she thought the vaccine was already being deployed elsewhere and that it was just another day on the job.

History had its eyes on Parsons that day, and on July 12, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles presented the NHS, with Parsons representing them, with the prestigious George Cross Award.

“I was honored to have been chosen to receive the George Cross Award from Her Majesty the Queen, representing nearly 1.5 million healthcare workers (of the NHS) in July. This is only the third time that the George Cross has been awarded for acts of great heroism in circumstances of extreme danger. The NHS has been awarded for its courage, compassion, dedication, and bravery despite personal dangers. It was a very unexpected and truly once in a lifetime experience to which I hope I can continue to raise the profile of Filipinos, Thomasians, and nurses. Thank you, UST, for helping me become the nurse I am today. I am truly one proud Thomasian!” said Parsons.

The historic jab in December 2020 marked the beginning of decline of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as of September 2022, the World Health Organization and Our World In Data’s vaccine tracker notes that 12.75 billion doses, including boosters, have been administered.

Parsons obtained her Nursing degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 2000, and then worked at the UST Hospital until 2003. That same year, she joined the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom, particularly the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, where she presently works as a Modern Matron for Respiratory Services. She recently earned a Master of Science degree in Global Healthcare Management at the Coventry University School of Nursing Midwifery and Health.

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