What it's like to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to some of the first healthcare workers to receive it

  • Healthcare workers in Nashville, Tennessee, were some of the first to receive Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The workers hope that getting the vaccine will motivate others to get it when it becomes more widely available.
  • Nashville has one of the highest COVID-19 case rates in the country.
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There is finally a glimmer of hope for health care workers across the country as the COVID-19 vaccines arrived at hospitals.

In Nashville, Tennessee, nurses and doctors hoped to motivate others by rolling up their sleeves first.

"There's a lot of misinformation going on and people are just scared," said Salomey Agyemang, a registered nurse at Southern Hills Medical Center. "I want to be one of the first people to do it so I can pass on that comfort to someone else so that they will also be encouraged to go for it."

Tennessee has one of the highest daily case averages in the United States, so the vaccine could not have come at a more dire time.

"This is a historic moment for all of us," said Prakash Patel, chief medical officer at Nashville's TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center. "I believe it's the beginning of the end of the pandemic. We've been struggling since March and this will make a big difference."

So far, the state has received more than 56,000 doses from Pfizer.

"Getting the vaccine was exhilarating," said Sydney Hester, an infectious disease doctor at TriStar Centennial Medical Center. "I was excited. It didn't hurt at all."

The Pfizer vaccine requires two rounds of treatment. When patients get the second dose, 21 days after the first, they may notice some mild side effects such as flu-like symptoms.

"I was a little nervous," said Christine Lunger, a registered nurse at TriStar Skyline Medical Center. "But truthfully, it was probably one of the easiest vaccines that I've received."

Factually incorrect rumors about the COVID-19 vaccine are spreading on social media. Earlier this month, Twitter announced it would follow in the footsteps of Facebook and YouTube by removing these types of debunked claims. Health care workers hope those efforts help.

"The more people that can get vaccinated, the quicker that we can see an end to this pandemic and a little bit of return to normal state for us," said Lunger.

"We have had sick patients starting in March until today, seeing sick patients on the ventilator and high-flow oxygen," said Patel.  "I'm proud of my staff and all of the hospital workers."

Nashville has been hit particularly hard. Right now, less than 10% of ICU beds are available in the city.

Patel did not get sick, but his teenage daughter did. 

"She was able to stay home and quarantine herself," he said. "She's in high school, but she did very well getting better with COVID."

Now, Patel is one of the first in the state to receive Pfizer's vaccine.

"I feel excited," he said.

As the needle went in, he and many others reflected upon a year they could have never imagined.

"Coming into infectious diseases, you know that you're going to be taking care of people with contagious infections," said Hester. "But nothing anything like this."

"Having patients dying alone because we can't let their family members come and risk getting sick themselves – being there and being that hand for them — it's just been really heavy on the heart," said Agyemang. "So I'm really encouraged that we're on the upside of this."

If 80% to 90% of a population gets the vaccine, doctors say the pandemic can be stopped.

"It's a chance to know that we can eventually move into a post-pandemic life where we'll have immunity to this and we can move forward with resuming normal life," said Hester.

Until then, experts are urging people to keep their distance and wear masks.

"This is an encouragement for me," said Agyemang. "It gives me hope that we have something that's going to help us into the future."

"This is the beginning," she added.

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