Vaccinated: Health professionals discuss their decisions and experiences

February 2021 Posted in Community, Your Health

By Melissa Wagoner

When Brian Reif – a clinical nurse who works directly with COVID patients – was offered the COVID-19 vaccine as a member of the tier one medical community, he did not hesitate to roll up his sleeve, likening his participation to a patriotic duty.

“What we have achieved to create and now deliver, a novel vaccine in such a short period of time, is a testament to what we can do through collective will and when we work together,” he said.  For him it was an emotional experience. “Our efforts to fight COVID should be unifying and not divisive because we all want the same thing.”

That thing, for Reif, is the eradication of the COVID-19 virus, which he views as a scourge to current human existence.

“I cannot support the current trajectory of the virus in the US which has the greatest number of COVID deaths and some of the highest infection rates in the world,” Reif said. Adding, “370,000 deaths and counting in the US is simply tragic and a senseless loss that illustrates how we must come together.”

But not all healthcare workers were completely convinced of the vaccine’s safety. At least not at first. Scott Hamblin, a pediatrician based in Silverton , and Charity Pape, an RN Lead Nurse for Providence Home Health, both had at least some concerns as they faced down the day when they would need to make the decision whether or not to become immunized.

“I’ll be honest, I had reservations at first and was very worried that the roll out would be rushed as a result of political motives rather than relying on the science,” Hamblin admitted.

But upon a thorough review of the data, he became increasingly confident that the current vaccines are not only safe and effective but are the key to ending the pandemic once and for all. He received his first shot on Dec. 31.

“As you can see, I wasted no time in getting mine, and many others from our practice have gotten theirs in the last couple of weeks as well,” a now thoroughly persuaded Hamblin said.

Pape, too, spent time researching the vaccine, focusing primarily on potential side effects.

“I have chronic Lyme disease, so me and vaccines don’t go well together because it’s really harsh on my weak immune system,” Pape explained.

Unfortunately, that weakened system also means Pape would be at a disadvantage should she contract COVID. So, in the final analysis, the vaccination seemed the better choice. She received her initial vaccination on Dec. 30.

Pape admits she did still experience some uncomfortable post-immunization symptoms – but none of them were life threatening and the majority were completely eliminated within five days.

“It’s definitely the strongest vaccine I’ve ever had that I can recall,” she noted. “I had a lot of arm pain at the injection site for days – my shoulder was achy in the joint – and because my immune system’s not so great I had really sore lymph nodes in my armpit and breast area. Fatigue and nausea and I think my gut just slowed down to deal with everything else.”

Hamblin, too, experienced some side effects but his were decidedly less.

“My arm was only mildly sore for a few days afterwards,” he said. “I did feel a little tired and achy for a few hours later that day… Fortunately, after a good two-hour nap, I felt more myself…”

Despite these temporary discomforts, neither Pape nor Hamblin harbor any concerns about receiving the second, booster shot at the end of January.

“I think because it’s a booster, you’ve already built up some immunity from the first one,” Pape speculated. Hypothesizing, “I will get some symptoms but not as bad.”

“I actually hope that I do experience some symptoms afterwards,” Hamblin put forth. “It just means that the vaccine has done what it is supposed to do, and that my immune system is pumping out lots of protective antibodies.”

That protection, provided by an activated immune system, is something Hamblin is very much looking forward to, not just as a way to avoid contracting COVID but as a way of alleviating some of the stress he and his family have experienced during the past ten months.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, and even more now that the pandemic has become more severe and widespread locally, I have anxiety and reservations every time I go into the office,” he said. Hamblin is married and the father of three children. “I would never dream of quitting my job and abandoning my patients and their families, but I have been in constant fear of contracting COVID in the workplace and bringing it home to my family.”

The vaccine, Hamblin hopes, should remove at least some of that burden – eventually.

“I still worry,” he admitted. Noting that, not only are those vaccinated still considered at risk for contracting COVID for up to two weeks after the second dose, but the vaccine itself is overall only 95 percent effective, leaving a small window for the disease to continue to spread.

“We still have a long road ahead of us…” he pointed out, “and I would encourage those who even get the vaccine to continue current social distancing and masking efforts to help keep us all as safe and healthy as possible. It will take six to 12 months before enough Americans are vaccinated that we can rely on herd immunity to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

That time frame is also contingent on the majority of Americans stepping forward to receive the vaccine as soon as it becomes widely available – something both Hamblin and Reif passionately urge the community to do.

“We now have a powerful tool that can help restore normalcy if we choose to act…” Reif pointed out. “These dark times have been challenging and the vaccine is empowering. Few personal choices can so readily be magnified in the mind or extrapolated from one individual choice to another, building successively, to the ultimate goal of regaining our livelihood.”

Both participated in the interview to present their personal view on the vaccine and virus and were not representing their employers.

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