Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is now being distributed in Wilson County, and officials say it could mean the beginning of the end for the pandemic.
Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital delivered shots to approximately 30 frontline workers on Friday and expects to continue at a similar pace in the coming days.
“I think this is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by a worldwide effort, really,” VWCH Associate Chief Medical Officer Adam Huggins said. “To finally see what we think is really the first step towards the end of this process — I mean, there’s still obviously a long way to go but this is a huge first step towards that end.”
Huggins said it remains important for the community to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing while the vaccine is distributed.
“It will be several months until the general public in large numbers are able to get vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve got an allotment from the state that’s going to frontline workers … and people at the highest risk, but even when we start stretching out from there it’s going to be several months.”
VWCH’s Director of Community Relations Traci Pope said Vanderbilt Health has received between 9,000 and 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine so far. Those shipments are being distributed across five campus locations, including VWCH.
“We still don’t have firm numbers on how much vaccine we’re going to receive from the state,” VWCH President Jay Hinesley said. “We do anticipate in the next several months that we’ll be receiving more and more vaccines and different types of vaccine, and as the information becomes available and the state directs us we’ll provide it to the community.”
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive next, with shipments projected to arrive at Tennessee’s county health departments around Monday. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, that means roughly 115,000 doses statewide over the next few weeks.
“We are excited to receive these additional vaccines and see our COVID-19 vaccination activities underway,” TDH Commissioner Lisa Piercey said in a news release. “Tennessee county health department staff members will administer the Moderna vaccine to first responders, home health care providers and student health care providers in partnership with these organizations and their local community emergency management agencies.”
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto sees the vaccine developments as a promising sign on the road to recovery from the pandemic.
“We have seen definitely an uptick, more cases in November than in five months combined previous, so today is really huge for us,” he said. “Our community has a lot of opinions about this virus, but there’s a song out there Jamey Johnson wrote about looking at some pictures of Vietnam … he talked about (how) you ought to have been there and seen in it living color, and our people here, our doctors, our nurses and staff, they’ve seen this up close.”
Registered nurse Shelby Brady is among those who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic since March, and she was also the first person in Wilson County to take the vaccine.
“I actually was the nurse for the first positive patient here,” she said. “Seeing that as it has progressed over the months has been absolutely just, it’s heartbreaking. Because it’s people in your community, it’s people that you know and that you care for.”
Brady said she felt a responsibility as a nurse and a human being to take the vaccine. She compared the feeling to a flu shot and added that it should work similarly when combatting COVID-19.
“Hopefully (I’m) one of many that’s going to be vaccinated here,” she said. “It feels absolutely amazing that we can offer that to the community and to the nurses that work every day with COVID. And not just the ones that work on my unit, on the COVID unit, but also that work throughout the hospital coming in contact with it.”
Since she started working with COVID-19 patients, Brady has seen a variety of outcomes and asked the community to keep that in mind as they weigh whether to get a vaccine.
“It affects everybody differently, and so I think it’s important for people to realize that you need to do everything that you can to protect yourself,” she said. “I’ve seen people that have gotten it and it’s not affected them whatsoever, and I’ve seen people that they’re on the ventilator and they don’t come off.”
Vaccine skepticism is the next hurdle hospital staff expect to face, whether it comes from concerns about their quick development time or conversations circulating through social media outlets. According to a survey released by the Pew Research Center earlier this month, roughly 60% of U.S. adults intend to take the vaccine and 40% do not.
Local health care workers are hoping to grow that 60% as more people in the community receive the vaccine and see how it affects people. TDH also announced a dashboard that will update on Tuesdays and Fridays with the latest vaccination numbers, available online at https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/covid-19-vaccine- information.html.
“Obviously in this day and age of social media and the internet and everything, there is a lot of very unreliable and frankly false information that’s out there,” Huggins said, recommending that people learn about the vaccine through sources like the CDC. “This vaccine has been thoroughly vetted, thoroughly tested. It is safe, all of us are going to be able to take it and we’re going to take it when our turn in line comes up, and we’re confident in its safety.”