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Adam Poore, an ICU staff nurse, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. Six Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center healthcare workers were among the first people in Athens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenziephotography.com)

A sense of hopefulness filled the atmosphere at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center as audience members played music while six staff members got vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles were heard through the claps of the audience as each vaccination was given. 

These employees were among the first people in Athens-Clarke County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Piedmont administered the vaccinations to front-line employees who work on the COVID-19 patient floor.

Eleven Piedmont hospitals across Georgia received just under 3,000 total vaccinations to disperse and are expected to receive weekly shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine. After Moderna’s vaccine approval on Friday night, Piedmont hopes to see increased access for its employees, said Michael Burnett, Piedmont Athens Regional chief executive officer. 

“We’ve got a new tool in our arsenal — the vaccine,” Burnett said.

After months of adjusting their lives to stay safe from COVID-19, health care employees are one of the four groups prioritized for the vaccine. The employees vaccinated Friday include two women and four men who work different positions on the COVID-19 patient floor, work with COVID-19 patients and are exposed to the virus regularly.

The members who were vaccinated include Josh Culpepper, Dr. Kimberly Tomlinson, Tim Campodonico, Felicia Howard, Alexander Terry and Adam Poore.

Poore works as a registered nurse in the medical surgical intensive care unit. He was the first of the six to receive the vaccination, and one of many of the hospital staff that have been in the front lines dealing with COVID-19 since March.

“Overall, it’s been pretty exhausting day in, day out, so for this to be something that’s, you know, hopefully a step in the right direction toward getting rid of it,” Poore said.

Moving forward, Piedmont will be vaccinating the remaining patient care employees before proceeding to the rest of the hospital staff. Piedmont employees are currently choosing whether to opt-in on the vaccine, Burnett said. 

Even with the vaccine being administered, COVID-19 guidelines, as established by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, will continue to be in place in Piedmont. 

“We want to understand the efficacy of the vaccine and continue to make sure to keep people safe,” Burnett said. 

Piedmont Athens Regional Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Sinyard stated the importance of educating Athens in hopes to reduce fear and confusion about the vaccine.

“Part of our job on the administration team is to try to make sure that our folks here have the right tools and supplies and education to take care of patients,” Sinyard said.

As more vaccines are produced and distributed, Athens residents and more hospital staff are expected to get vaccinated as well, but not without lingering questions.

Jody Corry, a lawyer at Piedmont, expressed her concerns about the vaccine’s compatibility with her current health condition.

“I would like to [get the vaccine], but I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I take an immunosuppressant drug. I’m going to check with my doctor,” Corry said.

Poore suggested seeking out additional information, such as asking a physician or an expert, to relieve any fears or tensions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“It’s reassuring to actually speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about and hear how much they support getting the vaccine and how safe it is and how effective it would be, so I just encourage folks to seek out as much information as they could,” Poore said.