COVID-19 vaccine arrives

Phase One under way

The first round of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Alabama nearly a month ago. Alabama was allotted only 240,000 doses, which will be administered in two phases. Phase One, which the state is currently in, calls for vaccines to be administered to frontline workers and those who reside in long-term health facilities.

Each phase is broken down into subcategories administering the vaccine first to those at the highest risk and descending in order of risk category. As of Jan. 12, Alabama has administered roughly 87,000 doses, the first dose of two required, leaving many to wonder when more doses will be available and how soon the public can be vaccinated.

Development of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines comes as the country is nearly a year into a pandemic that has killed more than 5,500 Alabamians and well over 370,000 Americans.Both vaccines are approximately 95 percent effective and both must be administered twice to complete the series.

The Pfizer vaccine doses are administered 21 days apart while the Moderna vaccine is given 28 days apart. The Alabama Department of Public Health is overseeing the distribution of the vaccines with cooperation from county officials and healthcare providers.

Amanda Washburn, Blount County resident and healthcare worker, recently received her first dose of the vaccine. Washburn, who works in a direct-care procedural setting, sees COVID-19 patients frequently, so protecting herself, her family, and the patients she works with is important.

She described the entire vaccination process as “seamless.” Washburn said, “Once I let my employer know that I wanted to get the vaccine, within a few days I received notification from the site where I got my vaccine of a date and time to be there. When I got there, I was in and out of there very quickly. There was a 15-minute observation period after I received it.”

Washburn explained that she did not experience any side effects, only a sore arm, no different than what she has experienced after receiving a flu shot. When asked about any apprehension she may have felt about getting the vaccine, Washburn spoke very candidly.

“I was not apprehensive at all about getting the vaccine,” she said. “I researched the subject and sought advice from credible medical experts. As a medical professional myself, I would never put anything in my body that I did not research, especially something as new as this vaccine.”

Washburn said she is sympathetic to those who are hesitant about getting vaccinated, but feels through proper research those concerns can be addressed. She encourages everyone who may be worried about the vaccine to research and talk to their medical providers.

“Personally, I feel that the general public gets most of their news and information from social media. Unfortunately, that cannot always be a good thing; lots of things seen on social media aren’t from credible sources,” she said. “I feel like there has been a lot of fear ignited. If the general public will research and get their information from educated medical professionals and credible sources, I think it will ease some of their concerns.

“I understand the hesitancy about getting the vaccine. This virus is new, but once you realize any other vaccine you get went through the same process that this one did, I think people will realize that it is safe. Everybody is ready to return to some sense of normalcy, and the vaccine is our ticket for what will be normal moving forward. Until most people realize that, and I understand it will take time, there will be no normalcy. We are going to continue to lose our family members, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers. People are going to continue to die.”

The outlook for 2021 is somewhat bleak as we have experienced some of the highest hospitalization numbers in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. “I fear that this time next year we may not be any better,” she continued. “I hope we will be, but I don’t think this will be gone. That is discouraging to me, but I am also encouraged now that we have the vaccines. My prayer is that people will come to realize that this vaccine is safe.”

As a frontline worker, Washburn feels COVID-19 has certainly impacted her on a personal level. The fears of transmitting COVID-19 to family or friends remains on the forefront of her mind. She misses church and those personal connections. As a mother to a young son, she described the challenges of explaining why life is so different, why school is different, and why they cannot attend church.

“It’s been so difficult to explain to him why life has to be so different,” she said. “I try to explain to him, also, that we have hope and it’s not always going to be this way if everybody will do what they’re supposed to do.”

For Washburn, the hope for a better tomorrow is what is carrying her through. “It’s such a simple thing we can do. Wear a mask, distance ourselves, and get the vaccine, if everyone will just listen and heed the warnings.”

Washburn sees the effects of COVID-19 and she describes the devastation of witnessing how the virus ravages the human body. “It affects everyone, every age, every race, every gender, it does not discriminate,” she said.

Those on the frontline are losing their lives and jobs to COVID-19 as well, causing a shortage of physicians and healthcare workers to care for the sick. “You can’t make up 30 and 40 years of experience and training on a dime; you can’t replace someone like that. There are people who cannot safely work in healthcare during the pandemic due to underlying health conditions or due to their age, and they are retiring — not just in healthcare, in many fields, like education.”

Still, despite all the heartache Washburn has seen, she remains positive. “Even if you can just change the mind of one person, you can make a huge difference; it can potentially affect the lives of hundreds of people,” she said.

As we turn the corner on the new year, numbers continue to rise and will keep rising as we reach the peak of the post-holiday surge. In just the last 14 days, Blount County has added close to 650 positive cases, while the state added nearly 60,000. Most hospitals across the state are at capacity and running low on resources from the first round of the holiday surge of COVID-19 patients.

Teachers and students in both the Blount County and Oneonta City school systems returned to in-person classes yesterday. It is unclear when vaccines will be available to teachers and school administrators. Vaccines for healthy school-age children will not be available until Phase Two, which will likely be months from now as the number of available vaccines the state has is not nearly enough to vaccinate all the healthcare workers and the others covered under Phase One.