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HUNTSVILLE, Ala – The day the Omicron variant is identified in Alabama is the same day Huntsville Hospital is observing the anniversary of administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to medical personnel. 13 COVID-19 inpatients have died during the month of December, 8 of them in the past week. It’s been a year full of challenges as doctors and nurses battle the pandemic. They fear, there’s still a long fight ahead.

On December 16, 2020, people embraced as the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Huntsville Hospital. Dr. Jeff Walker, a trauma surgeon, was the first person to be vaccinated.

“The CEO called me and said, ‘hey by the way you’re first.’ It was an unexpected surprise,” Dr. Walker said.

Back then the hospital was full and treatments were more limited.

“We were admitting a lot of patients with COVID. We had ICUs full of COVID patients and every day we were seeing people coming into our department having to be intubated,” said Dr. Sherrie Squyres, Emergency Room Medical Director.

Administering the first vaccine was a sign of better days ahead.

“There was a lot of hope that it would change our lives, and really open up the community again, and get us back to our normal lives,” Dr. Walker remembered.

Doctors didn’t know the aspiration of soon ending the pandemic would not be realized and many people would be resistant to getting the vaccine.

“And I don’t think that was expected at the time,” Dr. Walker said.

As cases once again surged, peaking with about 220 COVID patients in Huntsville Hospital over the summer, physicians were able to realize a trend.

“90 percent of the patients that are in the ICU are unvaccinated patients,” Walker stated.

Currently, cases are much lower than they were a few months ago.

“We still do have COVID patients, and I don’t want people to think that this is over. I think it’s far from over,” Dr. Squyres said.

As doctors watch the Omicron variant spread, they are concerned about another wave.

“We’re kind of taking a breather right now a little bit. Anticipating the next wave is a bit overwhelming. We’re very concerned about the staff and nursing levels and it’s a big strain on the system,” Dr. Walker stated.

Medical staff urge people to get vaccinated.

“If you’re scared of the vaccine, I would be much more scared of COVID,” Dr. Squyres explained.

As concern grows about the chance of another COVID-19 surge, doctors are also asking people to also get their flu shots. They say it’s a way to be proactive to prevent other types of future hospitalizations.