Covenant Health frontline workers get first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Thirty-five Covenant Health employees received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine Thursday afternoon at Parkwest Medical Center.

The first three people to receive their shots was the epitome of who needed it first: Misty Windle, a respiratory therapist; Robert Williams, an emergency department nurse; and Dr. John Adams, an infectious disease specialist.

All three work with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, and that’s the group of people Covenant Health slated to receive the vaccine first.

“We really want to focus on those folks that are at the highest risk for exposure of COVID-19. Our ER workers and physicians; our critical care workers; our folks who work in our COVID units. And that’s the entire team; not just physicians and nurses, but all the folks who are working with those patients,” Dr. Mark Brown, Chief Medical Officer of Covenant Health, said.

Excitement filled the room as Windle, Adams and Williams, followed by 32 other employees, received the vaccine.

Although you couldn’t see the smiles behind the masks, you knew they were there.

“Very exciting for me. It gives me hope that we can hopefully start ending this pandemic,” Williams said.

“I was kind of emotional, I really was. I’ve been really looking forward to this,” Brown said.

As an ER nurse, Williams said being one of the first to receive the vaccine was very important to him.

“Important for me as far as not having to worry about getting COVID while I’m treating the patients. It’s also important for me to get the vaccine to let people know that it’s okay to get the vaccine, and understand that getting the vaccine you’re still safe doing it,” Williams said.

As a respiratory therapist, Windle sees COVID-19 patients who need help breathing.

“Those patients that we perform nebulizing treatments to, which is what I do every day, and my staff does every day; those are the things that put you at most risk,” Windle said.

Shortly after Windle receives the second dose, which will be in 21 days, she knows she and her staff will be better protected.

“You know, we have to be here. We have to be healthy ourselves to continue to take care of the patients,” Windle said.

For many in the room, the vaccine was a sign of hope.

It was a sign that the end of the pandemic is in reach.

“This is the first definitive thing that we have had that we can attack this pandemic and this virus with. So this is monumental,” Debbie Honey, Covenant Health Systems Chief Nurse, said.

Debbie Honey, Covenant Health Systems Chief Nurse, holds Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vile.

Honey was the leader of planning out deployment to Covenant Health facilities.

She said figuring out who gets what and when between all the different facilities wasn’t even the hard part.

“The wait for the vaccine. That’s the difficult part,” Honey said.

She said it was important for healthcare workers to be some of the first receiving the vaccine, because they can show others it’s safe.

“When the vaccine is available to you. Please take the vaccine, it is safe, and it will help us stop this pandemic,” Honey said.

Starting Friday, Covenant Health will begin deployment across all acute care facilities, and to home health employees and employees who work in long-term care facilities.

These East Tennessee facilities include: Claiborne Medical Center in Tazewell, Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Fort Loudoun Medical Center in Lenoir City, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville, Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System in Morristown, Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville and Roane Medical Center in Harriman.

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