Rhea Medical Center

Officials with Rhea Medical Center said recently that they are confident in the success of the COVID-19 vaccine that is being distributed in Rhea County and throughout the country.

Rhea Medical Center CEO David Bixler said that the hospital has vaccinated nearly 75 hospital employees have received the vaccine and more shipments are expected over the coming weeks.

State health department officials said that while the initial number of vaccines was limited, more are expected to be shipped to hospitals and local health departments as production of the vaccine increases.

“We have been preparing for months to distribute approved vaccines and we believe this will be a safe and effective tool in the fight against COVID-19,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “Our initial supplies of this vaccine are limited, but we are in constant contact with hospitals to prepare for administration to our front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff who choose to receive it.”

Hospital officials are optimistic about the efficacy of the vaccine, and Rhea Medical Center’s Dr. Mark Pollard, who has received the vaccine himself, encouraged those who are eligible to receive the vaccine themselves.

“It’s the beginning of the end of this virus,” Pollard said. “This vaccine will do what its done for the flu. […] It’s going to help our world get back to normal. I suggest that anybody that is a candidate [for the vaccine] go get it.”

Pollard said that currently, state figures show that one out of seven people who are over 80-years-old die from COVID-19 in Tennessee. The vaccine, he said, will help reduce the number deaths.

“With this vaccine, we have a chance to save a huge number of people,” Pollard said.

Vaccine distribution is currently taking place at the Rhea County Health Department, and hospital officials said that once enough doses are received, it will also eventually be handed out to local doctors’ offices. Currently, first responders, frontline healthcare workers and those over 75-years-old are eligible for the vaccine.

The vaccine is given in two doses, with the second dose taken nearly 30 days after the first. The reason for this, Rhea Medical Center Pharmacy Director Ryan Smith said, was that the vaccine activates different parts of the immune system.

“The reason it’s given in two doses is that the second dose activates a different part of the immune system that lengthens the time of immunity.”

Smith said that the vaccine, like other vaccines, is a weakened form of the virus and is an mRNA vaccine, meaning that it will not incorporate into your DNA. Hospital officials explained that mRNA eventually degrades inside the body after the immune system learns how to attack the virus successfully on its own.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise, not only in Rhea County, but throughout the state. As of press time Tuesday, Rhea County has seen 3,360 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 497 active cases. There have been 51 deaths from the virus in Rhea County, and 2,812 have recovered.