‘Very emotional’: Hospital workers in Lancaster County line up to receive COVID vaccine

LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. — Doctors and nurses at the Medical University of South Carolina in Lancaster County lined up Wednesday morning to get the very first vaccines to arrive there.

Channel 9 first showed you the hospital workers live on Eyewitness News Wednesday morning as several of them received the first of two shots.

Doctors said over the course of the pandemic, they have treated roughly 1,000 COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

The glimmer of hope in a vaccine means more to Michelle Coats than anyone outside of the halls of her hospital could ever know.

“Thank God we can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Coats said when asked about what it was like to get the vaccine.

She’s a supervising registered nurse at Lancaster Medical Center and she, along with several other nurses and doctors, received the very first Pfizer vaccines to arrive at their hospital Wednesday.

“There have been so many people that have struggled with this and just to be able to get this vaccine, it is just absolutely amazing. I’m just excited.” Coats said.

Even while wearing a mask, the sheer joy could be seen on her face. Coats and her team are seeing the darkest side of the unrelenting pandemic. In her 20 years in the medical field, she has learned how to comfort patients the best she can -- when their loved ones can’t be by their side.

“As a nurse, you never want anyone to die alone, so we’re the ones in there and praying with them,” she said. “It is very emotional. It wears and tears the nurses out. You know, when you have one death, it’s hard. When you have two deaths, it’s even harder. Could you imagine a day you have three or more deaths? And you’re in there.”

Doctors stressed the need to continue using precautions like masks, social distancing and cleaning to reduce the strain on the health care system.

At MUSC in Lancaster, doctors said they’ve treated around 1,000 patients for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and they said it’s been a monumental effort medically, but also emotionally -- there’s no measure for what nurses and staff have endured.

There could be more tough times ahead. As the rest of us wait for vaccines, Coats shared a message we’ve all heard before, but it’s one we can hear again, coming from her.

“Wear your mask, social distance, good hand washing. Please ya’ll, this is not a joke. This is real. This is absolutely real,” she said.

Health officials in South Carolina anticipated nearly 43,000 doses of the vaccine arriving by Wednesday, with an expected 200,000 to 300,000 doses by the end of the year.

The first groups to receive the vaccine in South Carolina will be frontline health care workers, residents of nursing homes/long term care and critical infrastructure employees such as government, transportation, EMS, law enforcement and teachers.