The response has been clear since the vaccines arrived.
At one hospital, almost 50 doctors and nurses lined up in the morning waiting to get the first vaccines for COVID-19.
At other hospitals, health care workers had tears in their eyes as they received the vaccination shot.
“It was very emotional,” said Dr. Mark Browne, chief medical officer for Covenant Health. “It felt like the beginning of the end.”
Covenant Health officials gave a press conference Monday to update the public on how the healthcare system has handled vaccinations so far. All healthcare facilities under Covenant, including Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems, have received vaccines made by Pfizer and those vaccines have been distributed to healthcare workers, the first line of defense against COVID.
Browne, along with Debbi Honey, chief nursing officer for Covenant Health, briefed the media Monday.
“We are so grateful to begin vaccinating our team,” Browne said.
The vaccines arrived in Morristown over the weekend and vaccinations began Saturday at Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare Systems.
The Hamblen County Health Department said Tuesday their first shipments of vaccine made by Moderna had also came and they would start vaccinating first responders Tuesday afternoon.
The vaccines arrive just as the virus is spreading rapidly and spiking across the Lakeway Area and Tennessee. The state reported 979 active cases and 72 deaths in Hamblen County on Monday. The number of active cases and deaths have continued to rise rapidly after Thanksgiving as the county approaches having more than 1,000 active cases.
The state of Tennessee currently has the fastest rate of infection in the United States.
Honey said the vaccines arriving are a part of history. She said many of the staff who received the vaccine “are seeing hope.”
“This is historic,” she said. “This is life altering in a good way.”
The state has mandated that hospital staff, first responders and those in long-term care facilities receive the vaccines first.
Hospitals are receiving the Pfizer vaccine, while the health departments are getting Moderna.
Browne said they do not have a timeline yet on when they will be finished vaccinating hospital workers. They have thousands of staff and the vaccines are limited in supply.
He said as soon as they receive it from the state, they will distribute.
Honey said hospital staff are also seeing more vaccine than advertised. She said while it says the vial contains five doses, they have been able to get six doses from it.
She said the hospitals are using every last drop.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots within weeks of each other. Hospital officials said Monday it is safe and effective and the only side effects reported to them have been sore arms.
Browne said people must continue to wear masks and social distance from each other. It could be months before it is distributed to the general population and by the time there are enough people vaccinated to create herd immunity, it could be fall of next year.
“It’s going to take some time to take effect,” he said.
He said there are some worries about the short term. He said he worries about the effects from Christmas and even worse, New Year’s Eve, where even more people tend to gather.
“If we see the gatherings we had during Thanksgiving, we will see a spike,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s a muted spike.”