Giving the jab! Giving hope!

Roberta Heale @robertaheale

I’m a nurse practitioner and still practice, but my primary role is as a professor at my local university. I teach NP and MScN students online, so when COVID hit, it didn’t have a huge impact on my professional life.  However, like everyone else, I spent a great deal time for over a year at home.  My family and I have been healthy, but I couldn’t help but fall into despair and frustration as the months ticked by and the various lockdowns were put into place. None of us wants to wear a mask. Many of us want to travel. All of us want to see our friends and family and want to go back to something that resembles ‘normal’.  So, when an opportunity arose to take part in COVID vaccine immunization clinics, I jumped at the chance. I was excited to actively do something to help get rid of COVID after so much isolation and inactivity,

To date I’ve worked at almost 10 clinics at two different arenas. There are different approaches in each. In the first, patients register, then move to a station where they receive their vaccine, then to a section where they wait for 15-30 min to monitor for any immediate side effects and then they check out. In the second location, numerous rows are set up, each with multiple cubicles where the patient sits after registering.  In this case, the immunizers go from cubicle to cubicle giving the vaccine and starting a timer on the wall in front of the patient.  A second cart moves along the row checking people out once their observation time is over.  The first model works well with vulnerable populations and for people who require extra time while the second model offers an efficient way for several thousands of people to be vaccinated in a day.

getting ready for COVID vaccine clinic

Regardless of the model that the patients attend, there are many commonalities.  Almost universally they thrilled to be receiving their COVID vaccines. The workers are equally as excited. There is an air of enthusiasm and determination.  One woman told me her shaking wasn’t because of nervousness for the jab, it was from excitement of receiving it. I’ve heard things like “go ahead, I can’t wait to get the needle”…things I never thought I’d hear people say about receiving a vaccine! Several older people told me that this was the first time in over a year that they’d left their apartment. They recognized friends from behind the masks and had mini socially-distanced reunions across the aisle.  My city council runs the arenas.  They have staff members at all sites and they’ve brought coffee, meals and snacks in for the workers every shift.  I’ve worked with other NPs, doctors, RNs, paramedics, city staff and more.  There’s camaraderie with a strong feeling that we’re all in this together and that no one job is more important than the next.

Every now and again there’s discussion about those with vaccine hesitancy.  Most patients are incredulous that people wouldn’t want to get a vaccine to help get rid of the pandemic.  One person said that as a child she remembered the fear of polio and how happy people when a vaccine finally became available. Even in these discussions, I’ve been surprised at the empathy and concern expressed toward their family and friends who have chosen not to have the vaccine, mostly wondering if they will eventually come to regret their decision and hoping that they don’t get sick.

There’s also concern about the long term effectiveness of the vaccines and their ability to fight the variants.  The numbers of people who have kept pace with the research reports in the media is encouraging. Even the evidence that this vaccine might not be enough to tackle all the variants isn’t a deterrent to the patients I’ve seen. One person confidently said “we might just need an annual shot, like for the flu”.

The joy and hope I’ve witnessed at the COVID immunization clinics has been an unexpected bonus to my own relief in getting out to make a difference.  I have to wonder if, in the future, those who worked in immunization clinics will take their place alongside Rosie the Riveter and others throughout history who stepped up to help.  I’d like to think so.  In the meantime, I’m signing up to work at as many clinics as can.

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