Tamekka Grant remembers crying on the shoulders of her colleagues during long shifts of comforting dying patients and their grieving families in the Baton Rouge General intensive care unit.

When the 42-year-old registered nurse returned home from work during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, her kids weren’t there to comfort her because they were staying with family members so she didn’t risk exposing them to the virus. Her co-workers became her family.

“The low point is always when you can’t save the person that you’re caring for,” Grant said. “That is the most stressful part, having to be their loved ones — to stand in the shoes of spouses, children, parents and having to call to give them updates. One minute everything is fine, then the next thing you know God’s will comes into play, and that’s hard.”

Now, the tears come from relief — flowing from health care workers as an increasing number of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“There was a joyfulness of spirit I haven’t felt in a long time,” registered nurse Stephanie Myers-Boone wrote on Facebook, after sitting in a room with freshly vaccinated doctors, nurses and other health care workers at an Ochsner facility. “Some people cried, but they were not tears of sadness.”

Myers-Boone, the wife of an Advocate reporter, described the scene as a "holiday party."

At Baton Rouge General early Wednesday, cheerful greetings carried easily through the colorful masks worn by hospital staff waiting to receive the first doses of the vaccine administered at the hospital.

Licensed practical nurse Shannon Marcello told every staff member who joked about the pain of a needle that “my shots never hurt,” as she administered nine vaccinations in less than 45 minutes.

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“It feels great,” Grant said after Marcello pulled the needle from her arm.

In the three weeks leading up to her second dose of the vaccine, Grant said she intends to educate her family members and community on the safety of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for public use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the importance of continuing to social distance and wear a mask in public as the pandemic rages in Louisiana.

Around 550 people in East Baton Rouge Parish have died from COVID-19, according to the Louisiana Department of health.

“I’ve tried to figure out how we can educate people as nurses, how we can educate our family members, how we can touch our communities,” Grant said. “By just reaching out and giving them the resources and allowing them to understand.”

As thousands of doses of the vaccine are shipped to hospitals across the state, Grant said she sees a “light at the end of the tunnel,” but is afraid she has a long winter ahead of her working in the ICU.

“I’m worried those who are not taking it seriously are going to be the ones who are most affected,” she said. “I just pray that they open their hearts, open their ears and open their minds to understand what they need to do.”

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