The Center Square
Shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived at hospitals across Tennessee on Thursday, and the first groups of health care workers received the vaccine.
“It’s a light for the first time,” Cody Hamilton, who works in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told The Center Square. “It’s been dark for a long time. It’s been very difficult – really some of the most mental and emotionally exhausting work that anybody has ever done.”
The first 975 doses of the vaccine arrived in the state Monday and were held in reserve. A shipment of 56,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed to 74 hospitals in Tennessee. The state will begin receiving a batch of 115,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine Monday.
Vaccine vials arriving Thursday will contain at least one extra dose of the vaccine that was not previously expected, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Thursday during a news conference at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. As a result, the state will receive about 11,300 doses more than expected, Piercey said.
The vaccine’s arrival, however, does not mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Bill Lee urged Tennesseans to continue to wear masks as vaccines are administered.
“One thing that it will not cure is selfishness or indifference to what’s happening to our neighbors around us,” Lee said. “This vaccine will not cure foolish decisions about how we gather and won’t cure an attitude of a refusal to wear a mask. And it won’t cure the idea that I will take my chances and that that will not impact someone else’s life.”
Lee called on Tennesseans to make responsible decisions during the Christmas holiday, including wearing masks. The state has not released any recommendations or regulations on holiday gatherings.
“We’re in a dire situation in this state. We’re in a very serious moment and a pandemic,” Lee said. “The decisions of some, over Thanksgiving, to ignore advice and to meet anyway resulted in cases that we did not, we couldn’t, imagine.
“No mandate, no restriction, no shutdown is going to stop that kind of behavior,” Lee said. “Tennesseans will stop that kind of behavior, to the degree that they see this urgency of what’s happening in our state.”
Dr. Todd Rice, who leads Vanderbilt’s COVID-19 intensive care unit, said there still is a lot of work to do.
“We’ve known for a long time that the way we get off this pandemic is by preventing people from getting sick,” Rice said. “We will take care of you, but, importantly, we want to prevent you from getting sick. And the way to do that is through vaccination with an effective vaccine.”
Shortly after the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses arrived, Tesha Akins, who works in Vanderbilt’s COVID-19 ICU, received the first dose of the vaccine administered at Vanderbilt.
“The vaccine does bring hope,” Hamilton said. “But we know that it’s not the finish line quite yet. We still have a long way to go.”