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Across the country this week, millions of healthcare workers will be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, signaling a light at the end of an excruciatingly difficult year, especially for those battling the coronavirus pandemic on the front lines.
Dr. Gita Pensa, an associate professor at the Brown University Emergency Medicine Residency and emergency physician in Rhode Island, was among those who received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday.
"I am incredibly hopeful. I'm grateful," she told BuzzFeed News. "I'm not relieved yet, but sometimes just knowing that relief can be coming is enough to give you a second wind."
The past nine months have taken a toll on Pensa and her colleagues. With the number of cases and hospitalizations in Rhode Island reaching critical levels in recent weeks, Pensa said she has been running short on hope.
"Yes, I am a frontline healthcare worker, but I'm also a mother who’s worried about her kids. I'm a wife who’s worried about her husband. I'm a daughter who misses her parents. I'm a sister who misses her brother," she said. "We miss all those things that used to be what would keep us afloat in bad times."
The vaccine, she said, "is very well timed for a lot of us who’ve been feeling increasingly despairing about what’s happening in the United States."
For Dr. Taison Bell, a critical care and infectious disease physician at the University of Virginia, getting the first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday was a step toward a future without the coronavirus.
"It’s the moment that I’ve prayed for, to be honest," Bell said. "For me, [getting vaccinated] is just a drop in the bucket. ... But it's an important first step."
Bell spoke about his anticipation of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in a video he posted to Twitter on Tuesday morning.
"This is a day where I actually have some hope," he said in his video. "It's the first day where we can actually turn the tide on this pandemic, and instead of talking about the lives lost, we can talk about the lives that we've saved."
The past nine months have been "upending, paralyzingly difficult," Bell said, with his life revolving around the pandemic.
As director of the medical ICU at UVA, he oversees COVID-19 care at the unit, and he's involved in ensuring the safety of his colleagues and making sure the hospital has enough personal protective equipment.
Bell, who has had family members infected with the coronavirus, talked about the racial disparity in COVID death rates and acknowledged the skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine among the Black community.
Getting the message out about the vaccine in high-risk communities should be a focus, he said. He hopes that sharing his experience of getting vaccinated can help others feel less distrustful.
"What I'm trying to do is be as transparent as possible and hopefully through that be a vehicle to help other people that are maybe on the fence have a little bit more confidence in the vaccine," Bell said.
Like Bell and Pensa, a number of healthcare workers across the country also posted about their vaccination on social media.
Boston Medical Center staffers even choreographed a dance to celebrate the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine at their hospital.
The vaccine rollout comes as people take stock of the calamity that the pandemic has wrought on the country this year, and as the number of deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise.
Healthcare workers are still dealing worst aspects of the pandemic; Dr. Valerie Briones-Pryor, a Kentucky physician, told CNN that while on her way to getting vaccinated on Tuesday she found out one of her COVID-19 patients died.
But the glimmer of hope that the vaccine offers, and the prospect that 2021 can be a better year, is "tantalizing," said Pensa, the Rhode Island physician.
"My hope is that this is the third lap of a four-lap race. If we can just make it through keeping as many people safe as possible until as many of us are vaccinated as possible, I think we’ll be able to turn this around," she said. "I haven’t felt like that in a long time."