Pharmacist Carolyn Lancon was a small part of the effort to prove the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19, receiving a placebo version of the vaccine in September. Now, she’s administering some of the first approved doses of that same vaccine to members of the public at Bertrand’s Pharmacy in Gonzales.

“This is a good thing,” said Lancon, a 62-year-old from Baton Rouge. “These vaccines have been tested in a large, large number of people. … It gives me gratification to know that doing this is going to put an end to the pandemic.”

Lancon received her own, non-placebo dose of the Moderna vaccine Monday and vaccinated several people Tuesday morning.

Doyle Frederic, a 72-year-old retired postal worker from Gonzales, complimented Lancon’s needle work after he received his shot: “I didn’t even feel that.”

The phone lines at Bertrand’s have been overwhelmed since Gov. John Bel Edwards announced it would be one of the just 107 pharmacies across the state to receive 100 doses of the vaccine so they could begin administering it to people over the age of 70, as well as some groups vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus. Twenty-three of those pharmacies are in the Baton Rouge area.

Frederic managed to get an appointment when his wife, who is 69 and is not yet eligible to receive the vaccine under the governor’s mandate, quickly called Bertrand’s last week after seeing the news.

“I’ve got a little immune deficiency because I’ve got Crohn's disease, so I take the flu shot religiously every year,” Frederic said. “When this came out, I said if they want me to be the first in line, I’ll be the first in line.”

The beginning of vaccinations at pharmacies is an important step in a steady ramping up of the distribution of the vaccine in Louisiana and around Baton Rouge. It’s been less than a month since the first doses of the vaccine in Baton Rouge were administered Dec. 15 to frontline health care workers.

Those same workers received their required second dose of the vaccine Tuesday afternoon as elderly members of the public received their first dose at pharmacies around the state, according to a release from Ochsner.

The increase in vaccinations represents a promise of an end to the pandemic and an eventual return to normal life.

Selena Guitreau, an 86-year-old youth minister from St. Amant, said she’s excited to return to mentoring teenagers in her youth group in French Settlement, where she’s been working since 1999.

Guitreau said she felt lucky to be among the first people to receive the vaccine at the St. Amant Pharmacy in St. Amant.

“The Lord has blessed me so much by doing this,” Guitreau said. “I think he wants me to get back in the groove. He wants me to help all the teenagers.”

Guitreau has rarely left her home throughout the pandemic but said she’s staying busy by organizing mementos from her life in a room at her house she calls her “museum.”

One man at St. Amant Pharmacy received his first dose of the vaccine, which has gone through extensive clinical trials and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration late last year, despite his still having reservations about its safety.

“I figured that any kind of reaction I had from the shot would probably be a lot less of a problem than the virus itself,” said Nelson Morgan, an 88-year-old from St. Amant.

But retired pharmacist James Aiken, 70, had no such qualms about the safety of the shot he received.

“I’m 70, I’m retired, I’ve got a couple of health problems that would make me high-risk,” Aiken said. “This is going to be important because we can get back to normal in a few months.”

Aiken plans to use his experience receiving the vaccine on Tuesday to encourage a friend to do the same.

“I told him I’d give him a holler after this and let him know how I fared,” Aiken said.