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"It's light at the end of the tunnel"; Mid-South frontline hospital workers make history, receive first COVID-19 vaccine doses Monday

Doctors, nurses at NEA Baptist in Jonesboro, AR express relief, gratitude after getting vaccinated.

JONESBORO, Ark. — "It's just hard to see these people dying and having people not believe this is a real thing," NEA Baptist Hospital Brielle Rowlan said.

For Nowlan, after nine months of exhaustive care and nearly daily tragedy, the vaccine injection meant the world.

"It really reassures me that I can see my family more," Nowlan said.

On a historic Monday afternoon, Rowlan and about a dozen of her NEA Baptist hospital coworkers who treat COVID-19 patients were first in the Mid-South to receive the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose.

"It's hard to come up with words, this is really a first in my career, and first in my many colleagues to have a situation like this," NEA Baptist Dr. Steven Stroud said.

The vaccine timing is also critical, as staff at NEA and other Mid-South hospitals continued to be stretched thin with COVID hospitalizations.

"It has gotten significantly worse in our community, I don't think people are social distancing I don't think they are wearing masks as they should," Rowlan said.

"This is our ticket out, this is probably one of the most significant advances in modern scientific history," Dr. Steve Threlkeld, a Baptist infectious disease specialist, said.

Dr. Threlkeld said while those in the Baptist hospital system aren't required to get the vaccine, they're strongly encouraged.

He argued the vaccine's major rewards far outweigh any minor risks. 

"We haven't seen much or any of that in this trial, what have we seen though?" Dr. Threlkeld said. "We've seen a lot of short and long term spinoff problems from COVID-19."

Frontline medical workers at other hospitals in the Baptist system, including Baptist DeSoto and Baptist Memphis, are scheduled to get their first vaccine doses sometime this week.

The entire state of Arkansas is expected to get around 25,000 doses in the first wave of the Pfizer vaccine.

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