KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — 2020 began with unmitigated hardship that evolved into untold loss of life, but through the tragedy, this year is ending with unrivaled hope.
The first COVID-19 vaccine shipment arrived at the University of Tennessee Medical Center early Thursday morning and was promptly administered to the many of hospital's frontline COVID-19 doctors, nurses and staff.
The visible relief bursting forth from the doctors and nurses who spoke about their experience receiving the vaccine can not be understated. For the first time in a long time, they smiled under their masks and laughed in front of the cameras -- a stark contrast to the seemingly endless amount of bad news they have been delivering with stern faces for months.
“It’s been a long road for all healthcare providers, particularly those on the frontline taking care of these really sick patients," Dr. Nathan Smith, a hospitalist caring for COVID-19 patients, said. “Having this vaccination come out and being able to have our staff vaccinated and to set up a program to take care of the community is very exciting.”
The vaccine process for them, they said, was no different from the flu shot or any other aside from a lengthier screening process before they received it. They said they expect some to develop a slight fever or aches for a day or two, but said that's just from the body's normal immune response and can be treated with some ibuprofen.
Sid Baker, a frontline nurse who leads an acute care COVID unit team, rolled up his sleeve to show he had received his shot. He said he was more than happy to get it because it means he will soon be able to shed one of his greatest worries.
"After the second dose, I’ll be happy to go see my parents and not have to worry about spreading the virus to them,” he said.
All of the doctors and nurses who spoke echoed how utterly important Thursday was for them. The past few months have taken a serious physical and emotional toll, but the support they've seen has helped them get through it.
Their hope moving forward is that more people can put their trust in the vaccine to help others by cutting off the spread of COVID-19 after seeing the people on the frontlines receiving it safely.
"Get vaccinated. Hopefully, we can break this chain. I know people can get hesitant with taking a vaccine like this, but just do it,” Baker said.
“Taking the vaccine is important to show. We have had to make sacrifices just like everyone else in the community," Smith said. "I hope people really take home the message that this is about protecting each other, not just themselves."