I got a phone call in late December that made me drop everything I was doing.
It was from the hospital where I work: there were extra doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available that day. A lottery system was set up for eligible front-line health workers, and my name had been selected. I had two hours to get to the hospital to receive it.
I shouted with joy. My wife shouted with joy, as did my children. My elderly parents heaved a sigh of relief when I texted them. They have all been so worried about me. I was in the middle of a project at home, but that did not matter. I jumped in my car and headed straight downtown.
A Growing Body of Evidence
It has been a long and stressful year for us on the front lines. We have all seen people arriving to the hospital very sick with COVID-related pneumonia. We have seen deaths, more than what we are used to seeing with seasonal influenza.
There are other consequences of COVID-19 that we do not talk about enough, however. There is a growing body of evidence that COVID-19 is actually a vascular or blood vessel disease. There are young and healthy people who develop blood clots in their lungs. Some have also experienced mild strokes or heart attacks. Some patients develop heart inflammation leading to heart failure. Other people recover but experience ongoing health issues like fatigue and breathing problems.
We have seen significant complications with patients whose initial symptoms were not alarming. It is important to note that most of these people do not die, so they are listed as “recovered” and are not part of death statistics. I have not seen these kinds of issues with such regularity in my 25 years of medical practice on the front lines.
A Nerve-Racking Year
Going to work and being afraid is not something most of us have felt before in our careers. Listening to some people dismiss the reality is astonishing to us, and further adds to our stress. It can be very isolating.
Wearing full PPE for our entire shift is not easy. We must be aware of everything we do. Any slip-up and we could become infected; we could end up like one of those unlucky people.
Coming back home at the end of a shift is a whole ordeal unto itself. We are always being careful and meticulous with all that we do. We have all been so concerned about infecting our families at home. It can all be incredibly draining.
Getting vaccinated was a huge relief from all this pent-up stress. All I need is one more shot three weeks after the first one and I will have adequate immunity.
No Cut Corners
I could still develop a mild or asymptomatic infection after vaccination. We do not know if it will mean I will be less infectious to others. We do not know for sure if I will be less likely to have any of those serious complications from a mild infection. Those stressors remain.
In time and with further study of those who are vaccinated, we will get that reassurance and I am confident in that. I do know I will be 95% protected from becoming unwell and having severe illness. That knowledge is worth so much.
I have no safety concerns with getting this vaccine. The risks of natural infection are very clear to me. Any risks with this vaccine are much lower by comparison. I have trust in vaccine science and research. I work closely with many of these experts. This vaccine is very safe. It has gone through rigorous testing without cutting any corners on the process.
A New Technology
This vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. It is the first time this technology has been used in humans, though it has been in development for many years. mRNA is like a code that is used by our cells to manufacture proteins. The mRNA in the vaccine makes a version of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus. This spike protein is recognized as foreign to the body and that’s how immunity is developed. After a few days, the mRNA breaks down and is gone.
It is important to remember that when any natural virus infects us, it also uses our cells to make more copies of itself. The mRNA vaccine works in a similar way, but our cells only replicate part of the virus instead of the whole thing. This technology will prove to be revolutionary in medicine and is very exciting.
I look forward to the rest of my front-line colleagues receiving their vaccination. I will relax more when that happens, and even further when the rest of the population is vaccinated.
It is the light at the end of the tunnel we have all been waiting for. There is so much to be thankful for. We have clear sight of the finish line at the end of this pandemic!
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