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.
In the early days of COVID vaccine availability, the supply and demand issue was a challenge. Fortunately, as time passed, supplies became more plentiful. We received our first vaccines in late December and vaccinated our staff over the next couple of months. Since then, we have been sharing our supply with Mountain Community Health Partners, a federally qualified health center (FQHC), and the Mitchell and Yancey County Health Departments, in an effort to support our community’s health. Accessing a vaccine is easier now because anyone age 16 or older is eligible to receive one, and there is no longer a tiered system with waiting lists. It’s also important to know that the federal government is providing vaccines free of charge, so a recipient’s insurance status does not impact their ability to get vaccinated. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, refer to local media sources for vaccine clinic information. Mission Health also has a website, with multiple counties’ information on how to access the vaccine.
Since Mission Health is part of the Western North Carolina Vaccine Acceleration Consortium, each of the system’s hospitals, including Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH), is mandated to accept and handle the vaccine supplies we receive each week from the state responsibly. This means we must combat waste and every place that distributes vaccines, from health departments to drugstore pharmacies, must be able to store it in such a way that it is properly refrigerated.
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.
Another important offering at BRRH is that we now provide Monoclonal Antibody (MAB) Infusions to aid COVID positive patients in their treatment and recovery. Patients who are within two to 10 days of symptom onset may qualify for monoclonal antibody treatment. MABs are a product available by Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients who meet certain medical criteria and are at risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization.
Intravenous treatment is available with a physician order for patients that meet medical inclusion criteria. MAB treatment is a one-time infusion and takes approximately three hours and patients can return home once it is completed. Please reach out to your provider to see if monoclonal antibody treatment is the right choice for you. Also, the sooner MAB treatment is started, the better the outcome.
Currently there is no cost for the MAB medications as they are provided by our government. MAB treatment must be ordered by a physician, and the phone number for ordering treatment for a patient is (828) 766-3716.
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. Hale is a proven leader with more than 32 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.