ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Ballad Health officials administered their first COVID-19 vaccine to a registered nurse at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon Tuesday afternoon.

You can watch a live stream of the event on our WJHL Facebook page below.

“We very much look forward to vaccinating as many of our frontline workers as possible this week. And with the supply of the vaccine expected to increase steadily into 2021, we’re committed to making this vaccine available to everyone who wants it,” Ballad Health President & CEO Alan Levine said Tuesday.

Ballad team members working directly with patients will be the first to receive the vaccine. Employees are not mandated to take the vaccine, Levine said.

“I think once people have a chance to see this play out for a few weeks, maybe months, I think more of our employees will step up and choose to take the vaccine,” he said.

The hospital system administered the first vaccine to Emily Boucher, an RN in Johnston Memorial’s COVID-19 intensive care unit.

“Today for me is a turning point. Today is an incredibly hopeful day. With this vaccine my team members and I can be more assured that we are safer from the virus when we come to work everyday,” she said.

Boucher spoke on the difficulties of caring for patients hospitalized with the virus and urged others to get the vaccine.

“I see this virus,” said Boucher. “Not only what it does to the patients in the hospital that are fighting for their lives. But patients in the community that might not ever have to come to the hospital and the long-term effects this virus causes. And I’m convinced of the safety data to the point that I’m way more willing to take the risk, any small risk, that a vaccine might pose versus dealing with the actual virus itself.”

Ballad officials say they’ll receive 2,000 doses for Virginia team members and 6,000 for Tennessee team members in the first round of distribution.

The first shipment came to Johnston Memorial on Tuesday, allowing Ballad to start distributing it in an area they refer to as a “pod.” Another pod at Norton Community Hospital will open Wednesday.

The vaccines must be kept in special freezers and handled with extreme care.

“It’s thawed, and then it’s diluted and reconstituted, and then we take the vials, we draw those up, and then provide those as Emily got today,” said Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton.

Boucher was the first person in the region to receive the vaccine. Ballad Health administered the vaccine at 2 p.m.

Photo: WJHL

Ballad Health expects to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in Tennessee on Thursday and start administering them on Friday. Tennessee pods will be located at Johnson City Medical Center, Bristol Regional Medical Center, and Holston Valley Medical Center.

Officials said the 8,000 doses of the vaccine allotted so far between Virginia and Tennessee should cover the majority or all of Ballad frontline workers who choose to take it.