By Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN
I don’t often give out advice to thousands of people at a time, but since I care deeply about our community and the wellness of its residents, my message this month is simple: If you haven’t already taken the COVID-19 vaccine, do it as soon as you can. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our lives depend on it, but reaching what we call “herd immunity” with the virus — when so many individuals develop immunity that it makes spreading the virus much more difficult — will be critical to turning this pandemic around and protecting all of us.
We are very fortunate that the expertise and tenacity of researchers resulted in the development of two vaccines that successfully protect you against COVID. By this I mean that, though the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you will not contract the virus, it markedly decreases your chances. The vaccine options that we have available to us currently are the Moderna and Pfizer versions, and they are highly successful in preventing severe symptoms, the need for hospitalization, and death.
That said, questions have naturally emerged as people consider getting the vaccine, mainly around its efficacy, safety, and how to access it. As I stated above, the vaccines are quite impressive in their ability to stave off serious disease, and I encourage people not to hold out for one vaccine over another, as the differences between the two, especially in terms of efficacy, are negligible.
In terms of safety worries, people typically express concern over the vaccines’ safety, how quickly they were developed, and the side effects that accompany them. Because of the urgency of this global pandemic, it was imperative for the vaccines to be fast-tracked, but they were all developed using the same safe, scientifically sound principles that all vaccines must undergo. It can often take one to two decades for a vaccine to be approved by the FDA and administered to the public, but the combined Moderna and Pfizer trials, for example, involved more than 70,000 people and the steps in their development that are usually measured over longer periods of time were accelerated and performed simultaneously instead, so distribution could take place much earlier.
Another concern that many have about the vaccine is the side effects that can accompany it. The pattern for the recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been that they may experience soreness at their injection site for a day or so, while flu-like symptoms, such as low-grade fever, fatigue, and headache can develop after the second shot. Fortunately, all of these symptoms dissipate within a day or so and very importantly, they are signs that the vaccine — and your immune system — are working as they should be.
We must remember that vaccine technology has existed for a very long time, and that thanks to vaccines, diseases like smallpox and polio have either been completely or mostly, in the case of polio, eradicated around the world. If everyone does their part and takes the COVID-19 vaccine, we have the power to stop this awful virus in its tracks.
Tragically, COVID-19’s wreckage includes survivors of the virus dealing with lasting, severe symptoms, overwhelmed hospitals during surges, and nearly 560,000 deaths in the United States. We cannot let this disease rob us of time with our loved ones and the joys of sharing a meal with a friend or a hug with a loved one any longer.
It is incumbent upon all of us to respond to this public health emergency by taking the vaccine and continuing to practice the all-important 3 Ws — wearing our masks, washing our hands frequently, and waiting six feet apart. The decision to be vaccinated protects both yourself and your neighbors, and proves that we have the power to change the course of the pandemic.
Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine.