In addition to Williamson Medical Center in Franklin, Maury Regional Health (MRH) in Columbia administered the first COVID-19 vaccines to frontline health care workers Thursday, just hours after receiving the shipment.
Among the first to receive the vaccine are physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and emergency medical services personnel.
“We are pleased to be able to offer this vaccine to the heroes at Maury Regional who have been serving on the front lines of this pandemic,” Maury Regional CEO Alan Watson said. “They have personally witnessed the harm caused by this virus and the toll it takes on everyone, including patients and their families as well as our care team.”
According to MRH Chief Medical Officer Martin Chaney, M.D., the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a two-dose regimen with the second dose administered 21 days following the initial dose. The organization received an allotment to vaccinate more than 1,000 providers and anticipates the second doses for administration to arrive in approximately three weeks. Because vaccine supplies are limited, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that initial vaccine be allocated to health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. As vaccine availability increases, vaccination recommendations will expand to include more groups.
“We’ve had a multidisciplinary team planning for this day and we are grateful to begin vaccinating our care team,” Chaney said. “While it will take time to achieve widespread immunity, this vaccine is a beacon of hope for a return to a more normal way of life.”
Sarah Essary, M.D., is a hospital medicine physician treating COVID-19 patients at Maury Regional and was among the first to be vaccinated. She is encouraged to see a breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic.
“This virus is unlike anything else I have seen in my career. It affects multiple organ systems unpredictably and we do not have a good way to predict who will get severe disease,” she said. “I have had countless patients and family members tell me that they did not realize how dangerous this virus is until it affected someone they loved. We have been the last line of defense against this virus, and we have not had much in the way of weapons to fight it. With the arrival of this vaccine, it feels like reinforcements have been sent.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to receive EUA soon. Both vaccines were developed using messenger RNA technology, which uses the cells of one’s own body to boost an immune response toward a protein found on the virus cell wall. Antibodies toward this spike protein will then disable the COVID-19 virus if exposed in the future. This means that the vaccines are not produced using live virus; therefore, you cannot be infected with COVID-19 from the vaccination.
While it may appear that these vaccines were developed quickly, scientists have been researching messenger RNA for years.
Brandon Hallmark, a respiratory therapist who works with COVID-19 patients daily, encourages those who may be considering vaccination in the future to obtain information from reliable scientific sources.
“I have followed the vaccine’s development and believe it is safe and effective. If people take the time to educate themselves, they will find the risks are extremely minimal and the reward is substantial,” he said. “I want to be a part of breaking the chain of infections and ending this pandemic so that no more patients will have to suffer through this terrible disease and no more families will be without their loved ones.”
Morgan Kelso, RN, CEN, EMT-P, works in the emergency department and is often one of the first to encounter a patient whose COVID-19 symptoms have become so severe that they need emergency treatment and hospitalization. She quickly agreed to be among the first vaccinated.
“I feel that it is my obligation to protect my family, patients and community. I have seen too many sick patients and deaths related to COVID-19,” she said. “I think of the many past vaccines that have eradicated or greatly decreased diseases in the past, like polio, small pox and hepatitis. I hope that one day, because of this vaccine, COVID-19 will also be a disease of the past.”
While this vaccine is a substantial breakthrough, those working in the health care field emphasize that it will take months before daily routines of masking, social distancing and handwashing will subside. They are calling on the community for continued support to slow the spread of the virus by following these practices and refraining from participating in gatherings that include members of more than one household.