Health Reimagined "I Finally Feel Relief": 11 Healthcare Workers on the Emotional Journey to Vaccination The Winter Issue ft. Halsey
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"I Finally Feel Relief": 11 Healthcare Workers on the Emotional Journey to Vaccination

They helped us. Now let's help them.

I'll never forget our last day in the office. My boss told us all to bring home everything we'd need, and before we all packed into the elevator to leave the building together—the last normal thing I did in March—she said, "Between me and you guys, I think we might be home for an entire month." We all gasped in the moment—a month seemed like an eternity. It almost seems funny now, in a twisted kind of way. A month.

Now, after nearly a year of wearing masks, scrubbing my groceries, pre-ordering Clorox wipes, rationing my toilet paper, biting my nails, reminding myself to stop biting my nails because I could get sick, cracking my hands open with hand sanitizer, and banging my pots and pans at 7 p.m., I can't help but wonder what I wouldn't give for this to all have ended after just a month.

Now, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the vaccine. We've known for a while now that the development of a vaccine would be the only plausible ending to the pandemic. But the trouble with our only way out is, apparently, some people don't want it.

If you're on the fence about getting the vaccine, don't take it from me. Take it from the hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers—the true experts on the matter—who never had a last day in the office. Instead, they were on the front lines risking their own safety for ours (and still are). Banging our pots and pans at 7 p.m. is nice, but the best thing we can do for healthcare workers now is to keep ourselves out of the hospitals by getting vaccinated when the time comes.

Thankfully, for healthcare workers, that time has already come. As part of group 1a in the CDC's phased vaccine allocation plan, they're the first to receive the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. And as you can imagine, it's a very emotional, cathartic experience for our heroes on the front lines. Ahead, 11 of them share what it means to them to finally be vaccinated. And beyond that, what it means for their families, for their patients, for strangers, and for the world.

Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, Dermatologist

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"To put it simply, getting vaccinated feels like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I finally feel relief for the first time in almost a year. As a physician, I have been working full time seeing and interacting with 30-50 patients per day and often operate on the face where the patient cannot wear PPE.

"I found out in the middle of the pandemic that I was pregnant with my first child. The vaccine is offering me hope for a better, safer future. It's a way to not only protect myself but to protect my baby given my high risk occupation. Getting COVID-19 while pregnant can have serious, devastating side effects to me and my child. I am more likely to end up in the ICU, intubated, or go into preterm labor. I feel optimistic that the vaccine will potentially allow me to pass on antibodies to my child through the placenta and breast milk and in return protect her indefinitely."

"I am a physician and have the utmost faith and confidence in scientists, infectious disease physicians, and evidence based medicine. However, the vaccine has not been tested (yet!) on pregnant patients, so the decision to vaccinate was not one I made lightly. After speaking extensively with my Ob/Gyn, reading the recommendations from ACOG, and reviewing evidence based literature regarding basic science behind the vaccine, I felt that the benefits greatly outweighed the risk. In my opinion, the vaccine is the only opportunity to return to normalcy and to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the devastating effects of COVID. I highly encourage anyone undecided about the vaccine to discuss your concerns with your physician instead of using Google."

Dr. Sunitha Posina, Physician in Internal Medicine

sunitha
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"Vaccination meant hope and one step closer to 'normalcy'. It truly felt like the light at the end of the tunnel and a sense of relief. Science to the rescue! And a true scientific breakthrough in these dire times.

"I feel much safer now, although since this is just the beginning, remember that nothing has changed just yet. We still have to practice the social distancing measures and wear our masks. I would strongly advocate for everyone to receive if they can and to always visit the CDC website or contact their physician if they have specific questions. It is not just a personal safeguard or lifesaver, but also an act of kindness towards our society. This vaccine is hope for all of us to go back to normal life and it’s important to remember that we are all in this together."

Meagan Ogunrinde, Registered Nurse Anesthetist

meagan
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Vaccine: Moderna

"Getting the vaccine makes me feel safer at my job and more comfortable in front of my patients. Since the surgeon and I am the only ones who are vaccinated thus far, we still maintain all normal precautions in all aspects of surgery. I am scheduled for the second dose next week and am so excited to finally be completely vaccinated. I have always been a believer in vaccines regardless, but Covid has impacted all of our lives tremendously this past year. I cannot urge people enough to get vaccinated."

Dr. Corey Hartman, Dermatologist

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Vaccine: Pfizer

"It came down to this for me: I would rather deal with a few days of possible side effects from a vaccination than deal with long-term health problems associated with being infected with COVID-19. (That list of long-term effects grows every day as doctors discover more ways that the virus can negatively impact lives.) Not to mention the possibility of death if the virus is contracted and the major disruption of life that would surely occur if one is lucky enough to survive infection.

"Being vaccinated against Covid-19 was important to me for many reasons. It is the first step in regaining control of my life and doing my part to help the world move on past the Coronavirus. As a husband, father, physician, and employer, I have responsibilities to others around me to stay as safe and healthy as possible.

"This vaccine gives me the confidence that I can go to work every day and provide for my family knowing that I’m not only protecting myself, but also everyone that I come into contact with. I’m honored and blessed to be among the first to receive the vaccine and I hope that my example can help others, particularly those from marginalized communities that are often victim to health disparities, to have the faith that the vaccine is a good thing and encourage them to line up for their vaccine when it’s their turn."

Dr. Briana Bain, Physical Therapist

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Vaccine: Moderna

"It was very exciting to be a part of one of the first rounds of the vaccine. It's very encouraging that so many people are optimistic about it and willing to get it. As a healthcare professional, it gives me a little more peace of mind working with my patients every day, especially my elderly patients."

Leah Phelan, ICU Nurse

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Vaccine: Pfizer

"Working in an ICU that cares for COVID positive patients, I was eligible to receive the first dose of the vaccine in December and the second dose in January. I live with my parents and there have been times during this pandemic where I felt crippled with fear and guilt that I was bringing the virus home with me. Since receiving the vaccine, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders—something that's unanimous amongst my coworkers who also received the vaccine. The relief has been felt both at home and at work. I feel I can better care for my patients and their families with my COVID anxiety under control, and I can live at home in good conscience. Though the precautions w take in the hospital and in the community have not changed, I feel like the atmosphere in my unit has. Fear no longer terrorizes our unit, we feel more empowered than we have in months and there are better times on the horizon!"

Dr. Matt Nejad, Cosmetic Dentist

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Dr_mattnejad

Vaccine: Moderna 

"I was looking forward to getting vaccinated and am now grateful to have gotten my first dose. I think it’s an important step to end the pandemic, and it’s up to us as doctors to set an example. In my job, as a dentist, being vaccinated was especially important for both the health and safety of my patients and my staff.

"My own experience with the vaccine was easy—no different than a flu shot. I had a little arm soreness but no other side effects. And it’s important to keep in mind that the more of us who get vaccinated, the safer we all are. I can now finally see my parents and not worry about getting them sick."

Dr. Dara Liotta, Facial Plastic Surgeon

woman receiving covid vaccine
 @doctordaranyc

Vaccine: Moderna

"Being a healthcare provider during the early days of COVID was nothing short of terrifying, and I was by no means the most exposed of my colleagues. The personal fear of what it would mean to be sick for me, and the incredible sense of anxiety and guilt that you might bring it home to your family after being in the office or hospital all day with patients was at times overwhelming. I learned not to wear anything that couldn’t be thrown in the washing machine (thanks, Figs and Rothy’s!). I learned to wear silicone sheets on the bridge of my nose to prevent the pressure ulcers I got when we first headed back to work. I learned to drive home, wipe down the car with medical-grade disinfecting wipes, enter through the garage, strip down, put everything in a garbage bag, go directly to the shower, then use a glove to throw everything I came in contact with into the washing machine before hugging my kids— a new way of life. In many aspects, as we’ve learned more about this strange virus, we’ve come up with a more livable routine, and it feels normal for a time, but it’s still not 'normal' and it’s not what I want for myself and for my kids. Lots of things I think will be forever changed, and there’s no undoing the psychological changes we’ve all gone through with increased anxiety, and isolation, and lack of interpersonal interaction and socialization.

"But this vaccine is hope for us to regain some normalcy at some point. It’s a hope to better protect myself and my family. It's a chance to see my parents and sit down at the Thanksgiving table with my siblings and their children next year. A chance to be more calm and more together.

"I’ve watched my kids turn 7 and 9 during quarantine, and see them now coming up on turning 8 and 10 with COVID still all around us. I see them looking at the world, and interaction with other people, differently. They’ve lived an enormous percentage of their young lives in this physical relative isolation, and worrying about human interaction being dangerous and making their loved ones sick. Their tiny world views being shaped by worries about exposures and what it means to their grandparents. They can now both endure COVID PCR testing like champs. They can explain the difference between quarantine and isolation. It’s heartbreaking. They plan for life “after COVID is over” and they think about memories in terms of “before” and “during quarantine”. 

"I got the vaccine for myself. I got the vaccine for my patients. I got the vaccine for my children. I got the vaccine so that my family can hug one another again and so we can move forward."

Everyone needs to make decisions for themselves, but for me, this is a no-brainer.

Dr. Elyse Love, Dermatologist

elyse love dermatologist
 @elyselovemd

"I received the Pfizer vaccine because it was the one offered at my affiliated hospital. I had no preference and would have happily received the Moderna vaccine also. 

"When I think of COVID, I think of the millions of families worldwide—my own family included—who have experienced the callousness of losing a loved one to this virus, and I think of my colleagues on the frontlines who have witnessed an unfair and sometimes unbearable amount of loss. Vaccination, to me, represents the chance for us to move from unrelenting chaos and heartache to collective mourning. We are beyond the point of 'going back to normal.' Many, many people are broken. Getting vaccinated felt like my first step towards healing. Each person that gets vaccinated helps to tip the balance from destruction to repair. 

"Each person has to make the decision they feel is best for themselves, but it's important to understand that your decision affects your community. Herd immunity can only be achieved as a collective, and vaccination is the humane route to achieve herd immunity."

Dr. Shereene Idriss, Dermatologist

woman receiving vaccine
@shereenidriss

When I was diagnosed with COVID back in November, what weighed heaviest on me was not “will I be ok?” But rather: “who else did I spread this to... and will THEY be ok? Stopping a pandemic requires using ALL THE TOOLS we have available to us. I am incredibly in awe and grateful to the scientists and researchers who have come together across the world to bring us this vaccine in record time. Thank you for giving us hope and for bringing us one step closer to ending this motherf*+%er of a pandemic."

Christian Gauthier, Medical Assistant

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"The shot itself did not hurt at all. It was simply painless. My arm was a little sore for the first 24 hours afterward, but that's to be expected with any vaccination (like the flu). You can ease discomfort by massaging the area and taking Motrin.

"The best part of my vaccination experience was everyone who worked at the vaccination clinic was in an amazing mood because they're all there to help people. Everyone was friendly, everyone was kind, and everyone asked me how my day was and congratulated me after I received the vaccine.

"I absolutely feel safer after getting it. In order for us as a society to progress forward, we need to move fast and do what's necessary, which is getting the vaccine. All in all, my vaccination has been a positive experience and I feel much safer."

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