To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question.
Personally, I was on the fence about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Indeed, there are so many unknowns. But in the end, I decided to go for it. Here’s why:
First, as a healthcare provider, even as a physical therapist, I’ve been exposed enough that it makes sense to protect myself. This way, I hopefully won’t bring it home to my family. This includes my in-laws and my own parents, all of whom are dealing with or caring for a spouse with medical issues. It makes it safer for me to help them if they need it.
Therapists have to get close to our patients to help them transfer, bathe, dress, guard them while walking, etc. It’s impossible to maintain “social distancing” in our practice. And at this point, I’ve treated both COVID + patients in acute care as well as those recovering and in inpatient rehab on a routine basis. I consider myself very lucky to have been included with the frontline workers.
Even if I’m not providing critical care like ICU nurses and doctors, I see my job as a PT in a certain sense as a support role for the RNs caring for these patients on our COVID units. I can provide valuable feedback about how these patients tolerate mobilizing, especially capturing important objective information like oxygen saturation levels and heart rate with activity and trends from day to day. I can also do things like assist patients to the bathroom which, for these patients, is typically more often to the bedside commode because they can’t even tolerate walking 25 feet to the bathroom. I can also help guide decisions about discharge planning. There are so many pieces to the puzzle.
As a side note, if you are wondering if healthcare providers really wear those tents over their heads with the backpacks like on Grey’s Anatomy, the answer is yes. Yes, they do. My husband asked me this very question. I still don’t think he actually believes me. RN’s and patient care techs who are in and out of COVID rooms wear them routinely. I wear standard PPE for these patients of an N95 mask, face shield, plastic gown, and gloves. If that sounds like you’d get hot, you’re right.
Second, even though it seems like this vaccine has been created at lightning speed, the foundation for this new science was actually built in working on vaccines for the first SARS and MERS viruses, which are in the same family of coronaviruses as COVID-19. These vaccines never came to fruition because the viruses never reached pandemic stages. They simply didn’t need to be finished because infections from these viruses subsided. These COVID-19 vaccines were created due to an astounding cooperation among the scientific community, starting with the Chinese government sharing the genetic code of the virus when it was first isolated. The other piece was in receiving adequate funding. Voila. Smart scientists with money can get things done.
Third, this is a case where the benefits outweigh the risks for most. Now, I hate getting the flu vaccine, which is only 40% effective in preventing the flu, by the way. My body hates the preservatives used to keep it stable. However, the newer, hypo-allergenic versions I can tolerate well. A bonus of the Pfizer COVID vaccine I received is that there are no preservatives. It’s one reason it needs to be kept at -70 degrees. I think the biggest risk of getting this is the possibility of an allergic reaction. So far at my hospital, there have been no abnormal reactions to the vaccine. There have been a few reactions reported in the US and the UK, but very few. My only reaction thus far? A sore arm, which is to be expected, and which resolved by the next day. And to have a vaccine available that is 95% effective and knowing I will be exposed repeatedly? It just makes sense to protect myself since I have the opportunity. That being said, I have friends who have had a history of severe allergic reactions to new medications who have opted out, and I fully understand.
Fourth, for those who are just absolutely terrified of needles, this was the tiniest needle ever. Seriously. I didn’t even feel it. Rest assured that anyone who would give you this vaccine will have given hundreds of these by the time you are able to get it.
Fifth, there is no live virus in this vaccine. It works by sending a very specific set of instructions for your body to recognize the spiky protein that gives the coronavirus its name. This is done via messenger RNA. Again, there is no full genetic code of COVID-19 in the vaccine. It’s simply a set of instructions to defeat the most physical characteristic of the bug. That’s it. Its purpose is to call to action your body’s natural immune response so that it can recognize COVID-19 if you are exposed and defeat it.
Sixth, despite what our government promised, hospitals in our area may not get enough to vaccinate everyone who works for them. We were told to get the vaccine while we had the opportunity, because we may not get another chance until much, much later.
The new glitch in this process is the discovery of a new strain of the virus. It’s what is causing the rapid increase in cases in the UK. A similar variant has also been discovered in South Africa. This goes to show how quickly RNA viruses can replicate and mutate. And yes, these mutations are concerning. Fortunately, this is kind of what scientists do with the flu every year. They keep up with the subtle changes in the virus and tweak the vaccine accordingly. Right now, it’s a “wait and see what happens” scenario. Mother Nature sure is clever, but hopefully, science will prevail.
So on Friday, I rolled up my sleeve and got the vaccine. Like I said, I never felt the needle, and I was watching! After, they had me sit and be monitored for 15 minutes just in case I had a reaction. But I was fine! I received my card from the CDC and will be texted when my window for the second dose arrives. Easy. I’m already feeling a bit of peace of mind that I’m working toward immunity. And I’m hoping this opens doors for traveling, running races in person, and visiting with out of town family.
For now, I feel like healthcare providers have been tossed a life jacket to clutch onto as we tread in choppy, stormy waters while the ship is sinking. It’s the first glimmer of hope we’ve had in a while. Again, now is not the time to let your guard down. Continue to wear your masks. Continue to socially distance. Just because the life jackets are being distributed doesn’t mean that everyone will get one. Distribution may not even be equitable, kind of like the Titanic. The storm of the pandemic is far from over. Cases are still surging in my state of Virginia, and it’s predicted that the worst is yet to come.
As far as having the opportunity to get vaccinated goes, perhaps Dan Rather said it best:
Most importantly, protecting yourself from viruses by vaccination is one way you can take control of your wellbeing. Reducing your risk of infection may also help alleviate anxiety about contracting the virus. By getting mine, I hope that my loved ones, like my dad who will likely be included in round two, will be less apprehensive about getting the vaccine. Science works.
I hope sharing my experience and understanding helps alleviate some of your fears about getting the vaccine. My best friend from middle school just lost her grandmother to COVID. One of my high school friends had it and was briefly hospitalized with complications. And one of my friends is currently in the hospital battling this nasty virus. I have friends working where she is, and I’m able to sneak in some essentials for her. But she, as well as all of my patients who have had this, say the same thing: no one wants this virus. In the end, getting the vaccine is a personal choice, a difficult one even for healthcare providers, and you must make the best one for you. Seek the advice of your doctor if you have any concerns. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.