Meet the first person to get vaccinated in California

The first person in California to get vaccinated was frontline ICU nurse Helen Cordova.

Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced the Kaiser Los Angeles nurse to the world on Tuesday as the state reopened for business and he handed out $1.5 million each to 10 lucky vaccinated Californians.

Newsom brought her up on stage at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, so she could tout the benefits of the vaccine. 

"I am feeling so emotional, excited, hopeful," Cordova said. "To look back now, and see where we were, it’s a little eerie but also encouraging and exciting to see how far we’ve come."

In May, Cordova told Salud America that she didn't want to get vaccinated back in December. 

"Initially, I was absolutely not going to get the vaccine. I thought, ‘It was rushed, I won’t trust it,’" Cordova told the organization.

But after consulting with her colleagues and reading the research from the clinical trials, Cordova knew she should.

"I remember talking with my coworker the evening before the first dose, and we both were like, ‘You know, if we can do this to protect our families and be an example for our families, then why not? Why not us? And just take that leap of faith. We’ve got to trust the medical community, the scientific community, in this decision and in this process,’" Cordova told Salud America. 

Neither Cordova nor her high-risk mother caught the virus, but some of her other family members did, including her brother and nephew.

More than 40 million doses of vaccine have been administered in California — to more than 70% of the state’s adults. California currently has one of the nation’s lowest infection rates, below 1%.

However, the vaccination rate could be much higher in certain parts of the state.

For example, only 26% of Lassen County residents have gotten vaccinated. 

Cordova implored the vaccinated to get their shots. A total of 600,000 people around the country have died of COVID since the outbreak last March, according to John Hopkins University. 

"We saw way more death than we’d ever like to see. We held way too many hands because families were not able to," Cordova said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.