By Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA
From a public health perspective, there is no more important step that the residents of the Highlands and Cashiers Plateau could take now than to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This simple act, along with continuing to practice the “3 Ws” — washing hands frequently, wearing a mask, and waiting six feet apart — is proving to be pivotal in reversing the course of the pandemic and regaining a sense of normality. Imagine having a small group of vaccinated people in your home who are from outside your immediate household, attending a performance, eating out, or simply hugging a vaccinated friend or family member again. This is an accurate picture of the future if the United States reaches a state of herd immunity, or when such a great number of citizens are vaccinated that the spread of the virus is prevented to a large extent.
I am so passionate about our community members receiving the COVID-19 vaccine that I volunteered to lead the Highlands Cashiers Plateau Vaccine Initiative, an effort that offers support to our local health departments as they take on the task of vaccinating our neighbors here on the Plateau. I’ve been greatly enriched by working with this highly dedicated group of more than 250 volunteers. Though many of them have no background in clinical work, they nevertheless wanted to be instrumental in making our community safe again from this virus, which has robbed our country of more than 560,000 lives.
That said, I am concerned about the hesitancy that I and the other volunteers have encountered when discussing the vaccine with people. It is to be expected that individuals will wonder about any new vaccine’s development, safety, and efficacy, and I have had a great many conversations with Plateau residents about this very topic.
I also encourage everyone I speak with not to delay getting their vaccine because they think one is preferable to the other. Their efficacy is so similar, and each is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing you from having serious enough COVID symptoms that would land you here at the hospital, and in turn possibly having a fatal outcome, the two most frightening possibilities. It’s especially important for older people, Black, Native American, and Latinx community members to be vaccinated, as the virus has hurt these populations disproportionately. Each vaccine requires two shots spaced several weeks apart, and both are free of charge.
As for side effects, most people experience injection site soreness for a day or two after the first dose, and the second dose is frequently accompanied by some flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, body aches, and low-grade fever. Though you may not experience symptoms, if you do, your immune system is behaving as it should — learning to recognize and combat the virus (though if you don’t have symptoms, it doesn’t mean that your immune system isn’t working properly).
The following are other vaccine providers:
- Macon County Public Health, 1830 Lakeside Drive, Franklin, NC, 828-349-2081
- Jackson County Department of Public Health, 538 Scotts Creek Rd, Sylva, NC, 828-586-8994
- WCU Regional Vaccination Clinic, 3971 Little Savannah Rd, Health and Human Services Bldg, Room 194, Cullowhee, NC, 828-227-8222
- Ingles Pharmacy in Cashiers, 828-743-6312
- Cashiers Valley Pharmacy, 72 Cashiers Shopping Center, Cashiers, 828-743-3114
- Highlands Pharmacy, 195 Main St, Highlands, 828-526-2366
It’s easier to get your vaccine now too, because as of April 7, everyone 16 and older is eligible to receive one; there are no more tiers you have to track.
Getting your shot means less likelihood for viral transmission in our community, and fewer hospitalizations and deaths. You’re protecting your family, co-workers, neighbors, and the entire Plateau community, in addition to yourself, by stepping up and rolling up your sleeve.
Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.