By Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC
There have been many low points that our country has faced since COVID-19 arrived in the United States last year, from the early days of the pandemic when we didn’t understand much about the virus, how it was spread, or its effects, to the tragedy of more than 560,000 dead in this country alone.
The federal government sends vaccines to every state, and then they’re distributed to health systems, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers (FQHC). It is critical that vaccine isn’t wasted, and any facility accepting vaccines has to prove that they have the capability to store it in freezers that keep it very cold, so it stays viable and usable.
There is no charge for getting your vaccination, and though there had been a tier system in place where people were prioritized by age, underlying health conditions, and other factors, as of Wednesday, April 7, every North Carolina resident age 16 and older is eligible for the vaccine.
Initially, much of the vaccine supply was allocated to larger cities in the middle of the state, but the distribution equity issue has been righted and western North Carolina now has plenty of vaccines.
I also frequently hear concerns about possible side effects from the vaccine. You’ve probably heard by now that for many, the Pfizer and Moderna have minimal side effects after you take the first dose except for arm pain at the injection site, but that achiness, fever, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms can occur after the second dose. These symptoms are actually good signs that prove the vaccine is doing its job, causing your immune system to respond to the COVID-19 virus and subsequently providing great preventive protection from getting sick with the virus, suffering severe complications and being hospitalized, and dying as a result of COVID. Conversely, if you don’t suffer any side effects, this does not mean that the vaccine is ineffective.
The differences in each vaccine’s efficacy are minimal, which is why providers are discouraging people from choosing to wait until they can receive a particular one. Both provide the same crucial protection from developing grave COVID symptoms, and lower your risk of being hospitalized to nearly zero.
For those concerned about a severe post-vaccine reaction, such instances have numbered less than 1 in 10,000 during the vaccine rollout, and after you get each injection, you’re observed by medical professionals for 15-30 minutes, depending on risk factors, and treated if necessary.
The word “unprecedented” has been used over the last year to refer to many challenges posed by the pandemic, but we’ve learned an amazing amount about the COVID-19 virus, how it behaves and spreads, and how we can curb its spread through frequent handwashing, waiting six feet apart, and wearing our masks — otherwise knowns as the 3 Ws. Following these protocols remains vitally important, even after you receive your vaccine.
Our community members have every right to have their vaccine-related questions answered so they can feel well-prepared before they receive it. I’m excited that we are now at a pivotal point: By taking the vaccine, you can help turn the tide of this devastating pandemic and bring us closer to the life we all remember. And don’t forget, you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting your neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, and our entire community.
Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital.