Seven health care workers at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville became the first Northeast Georgians to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday evening after doses of the vaccine arrived in the region.
They were the first of about 5,000 frontline staff and physicians to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which arrived at the Gainesville hospital Thursday morning, where it is being stored is specially ordered freezers to keep it at proper temperatures.
“It feels like Christmas came early,” Carol Burrell, president and CEO of Northeast Georgia Health System, said. “It’s been a long eight months for our organization and our community, as we continue to see record numbers of COVID patients. We still have a long journey ahead of us, but simply having a vaccine in our hands is a tremendous and positive step forward.”
Elizabeth Larkins, director of critical care at the Gainesville hospital, was among the first to get the vaccine Thursday night.
"I didn't even feel it," she said.
Others vaccinated Thursday included Rachel Brunner, critical care nurse in Gainesville and Braselton; Andy Cason, respiratory therapist in Gainesville; Tamika Johnson, charge nurse in the Mobile Medical Unit in Gainesville; April McDonald, pulmonology and critical care physician with the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group; Terry Phillips, environmental services technician in Gainesville and Seth Scott, emergency department nurse in Gainesville.
Doses are being offered to employees in a prioritized order based on risk, with more vaccinations continuing at the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals. Future vaccine shipments are expected to begin on a regular basis soon, though no official timeline has been set.
“We hope other COVID-19 vaccines developed by different companies and research groups will receive federal approval soon, which would allow us to vaccinate our workforce and people in our community, faster than planned,” Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, medical director of infectious disease medicine. “I’m amazed at how quickly our team has worked through detailed logistics to make this possible – just like they have with so many other challenges during the pandemic.”
As of Thursday, 263 confirmed coronavirus patients were admitted to Northeast Georgia Health System hosptials and long-term care facilities, just short of a record number of hospitalizations. Six ICU beds were available between the Gainesville and Braselton hospitals.
Federal officials said Wednesday that 5.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — enough to inoculate more than 2.9 million people nationwide — had been set aside mainly for states to start protecting medical workers and nursing home residents against the coronavirus.
The arrival of the vaccine in Northeast Georgia came just hours before a panel of the Federal Drug Administration gave approval to a second vaccine developed by drug company Moderna.
“It’s important to remember that vaccination isn’t a magic bullet that will end the pandemic immediately,” says Dr. Mannepalli. “People need to continue following the 3Ws – wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance – even after getting the vaccine, at least until herd immunity is achieved.”
Important information about COVID-19 vaccines, including details about when they may be available to the general public, answers to frequently asked questions and more, is available at nghs.com/covid-vaccine.