By Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE
The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with a public health crisis we’ve not seen the likes of in more than a century. The influenza pandemic of 1918 is the last time the United States, and the world, had to deal with the onslaught of a virulent virus that showed no mercy as it swept across the globe, killing about 675,000 in the United States alone. No vaccine was available then, but we are the beneficiaries of the persistence and hard work of dedicated researchers who, in record time, developed two effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Now it’s time for us to do the right thing and take the vaccine when it’s our turn. At the same time, many have questions about the safety of the vaccine, particularly regarding how rapidly it was developed, how groups were prioritized to receive it, and how supplies are distributed to the states by the federal government. These are all reasonable inquiries, and that’s why I’m addressing them in this column — because it’s best to feel secure about having all the information you need in order to be confident about getting the vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccines were developed rapidly, in response to critical need, but there were no shortcuts or compromises related to the safety or scientific principles used in the research conducted to formulate them. More than 70,000 individuals were involved in the Pfizer and Moderna trials, and even though the typical vaccine approval process can take 15-20 years, many of the steps to create the COVID vaccines were performed simultaneously, rather than sequentially (the standard path for vaccines). Despite the fact that the usual safety data gathered over a period of years isn’t present in the same way with the COVID vaccines, the trial results reflect the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, and one thing is certain: The benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the risks.
It’s also important to understand just what the vaccine does. Once vaccinated, you’re not guaranteed 100 percent immunity from COVID-19, but you’re significantly protected from contracting it, and nearly 100 percent protected from experiencing grave symptoms that lead to hospitalization, as well as death.
Mission Health is a member of the Western North Carolina Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, and as such, they carefully review our needs each week with the health department, local pharmacies and other outlets providing vaccination services regionally so distribution can be both equitable and efficient. Mission Health receives a new vaccine shipment weekly, and when we get our allotment, we must ensure that we can get shots in the arms of our community members quickly and efficiently, which brings me to the topic of how decisions are made about who should be vaccinated.
In addition to emphasizing that everyone should receive their vaccine, I encourage community members to get the first one that’s available to them, whether it’s the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Each offers comparable protection.
It’s only natural to be concerned about the possibility of side effects, so first and foremost, understand that you cannot contract COVID-19 from the vaccine. Typically we’re hearing that those who receive either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine have soreness at the injection site after the first shot and can experience slight fever, fatigue, headache and achiness after the second, which usually resolves in a day or two. All of these symptoms mean that your immune system is behaving exactly as it should. It’s learning to recognize the virus and how to fight it should it invade. This recognition is what will allow you to avoid hospitalization and serious complications should you contact COVID.
The process of getting your vaccine couldn’t be quicker or simpler. If you’re getting your first vaccine of two, you receive a card that proves you’ve taken the first shot and you make an appointment for your second one. Skilled healthcare workers are administering the vaccine and after you receive one, you stay at the vaccination site for 15 minutes to ensure that you don’t have a reaction. If you do, medical personnel are on-site, prepared to provide treatment.
An important reminder: Because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue practicing the 3 Ws, or washing your hands often, wearing your mask and waiting six feet apart. They remain the most effective weapons, especially used in conjunction with your vaccine, in eradicating COVID-19.
Knowledge is power, and now by receiving your COVID-19 vaccine, you have the power to help reverse the course of the pandemic and to get back to living your life the way you remember, that much more quickly. We’re truly at a critical point right now, and I’m happy to say that our community has stepped up. Macon County has the highest percentage of vaccinated individuals, at 28 percent.
If you’ve already received your vaccine, I and our community thank you; if you still need it, do arrange to receive it at your earliest convenience.
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center.