Tennessee hospitals begin Pfizer vaccine rollout for front-line health care workers

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Posted at 8:24 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 19:07:31-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Some of the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were administered Thursday morning to front-line health care workers at hospitals across Tennessee.

Tennessee received its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week but didn't start its rollout at hospitals until Thursday. Front-line health care workers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were among those to receive the first doses.

At Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford, Dr. David Sellers, chief of staff for the hospital, was the first person to be vaccinated at that hospital. While Dr. Jeff Mason, an infectious disease specialist, was the first to receive the vaccination at Ascension Saint Thomas West.

"I'm humbled to be the first caregiver at Ascension Saint Thomas to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," said Dr. Jeff Mason, infectious disease specialist, Ascension Saint Thomas. "I'm encouraging my colleagues to get the vaccination, and once it's available for the public as well. I'm thankful for my fellow caregivers and their selflessness in the dedicated patient care they deliver every day.”

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Dr. Jeff Mason, an infectious disease specialist at Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West, receives the first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, December 17, 2020.

In Columbia, health care workers at Maury Regional Hospital received the vaccine.

“We are pleased to be able to offer this vaccine to the heroes at Maury Regional who have been serving on the front lines of this pandemic,” said CEO Alan Watson. “They have personally witnessed the harm caused by this virus and the toll it takes on everyone, including patients and their families as well as our care team.”

Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state received 56,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine across 28 sites to serve 74 hospitals. The state is expecting one more shipment of the Pfizer vaccine before the end of the year.

Dr. Piercey said the vials in this batch have an extra dose or two that will add 11,300 doses to the current supply.

If the FDA approves the Moderna vaccine over the weekend, Tennessee will get its 115,000 doses on or around Dec. 21. Piercey said this vaccine is equally as safe – and has less stringent storage requirements than the Pfizer vaccine.

Smaller hospitals that are not receiving the Pfizer vaccine are expected to receive Moderna vaccine the week of Dec. 28.

Nashville is expected to get 16,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and roughly 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine early next week.

Before the vaccine was administered, Gov. Bill Lee spoke from Vanderbilt and pleaded with Tennesseans to “make responsible decisions” to help mitigate the spread of the virus as cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to surge across the state.

The governor asked Tennesseans to wear a mask and resist gathering during the holidays, saying the state “must turn the tide against COVID-19.”

“[The vaccine] will take some time to have a real impact,” Lee said. “Your decision, whether you’ve worn a mask ever before or not, your decision to wear a mask today, for example, may be the decision that keeps you from being treated by these health care workers in the weeks ahead.”

Gov. Lee, who has resisted calls from doctors and local officials to issue a statewide mask mandate, urged Tennesseans to make “responsible decisions.”

“One thing that this vaccine will not cure is selfishness or indifference,” Lee said. “This vaccine will not cure foolish decisions about how we gather. It won’t cure an attitude of refusal to wear mask and it won’t cure the idea that ‘I will take my chances and it won’t impact someone’s life.’”

Watch the full presser below:

Wednesday night, Dr. William Polk, a Nashville surgeon, received the first dose of the vaccine. He was among the first to get the vaccine in Tennessee since it was given emergency authorization by the FDA last week.

"The risk of the vaccine, the little bit discomfort, maybe a fever; that pales in comparison to the devastating effect that it can have on a real significant portion of people who get the virus," Polk said.

Polk will need a second dose in three weeks, and he says he will continue to wear a mask in public.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.