While the endurance race that was 2020 continues into the New Year, it is accompanied by something very important: new hope.
Vaccinations have been underway around the world for nearly a month now, including right here in northern Michigan. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are providing important strides forward in allowing us to safely achieve herd immunity in the year ahead and eventually turn this page in our history.
The initial phase of this effort has been designed to protect many of the most vulnerable living in long-term care facilities as well as those responsible to care for patients within the healthcare system. As of Jan. 11, more than 6,000 Munson Healthcare team members and contracted staff have received or are scheduled to receive their first dose of the vaccine, with many now receiving their second and final dose. This represents approximately 61 percent of the staff who are eligible.
While the vaccine is not mandatory for our staff, the opportunity has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm. Front-line ICU physician Dan Navin, MD, of Pulmonary Disease & Critical Care Medicine, was among the first to volunteer to receive the vaccination and shared why:
“When you see the severe cases and you call a wife every day about her husband who she can’t see on a ventilator in the hospital, and you watch people lose their loved ones it’s pretty dramatic … getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is something we all can do to help one another out, keep ourselves safe and try to bring an end to this pandemic.”
As the vast majority of our staff will attest, the side effects to these vaccines are really no different than those from other common vaccinations such as the flu shot or tetanus. Your arm might be a little sore and you may experience a little tiredness and general achiness as the immune system fires up, but these are actually good signs that your body is simply building resistance.
Munson Healthcare Clinical Pharmacist Nick Torney, Pharm.D., recently reminded our staff that the Moderna vaccine trial included 30,000 people and the Pfizer study 44,000. These were massive Phase 3 trials. Typically if there are going to be long-term side effects, they occur within six weeks of getting the vaccine. Those who received the vaccines during these trials had an average follow-up of at least two months in both studies that revealed minimal side effects.
Beginning this week, more people will now be eligible to receive the vaccine, including all those 65 and older, as well as essential workers in industries such as education, childcare, first-response and county, state and federal government. Munson Healthcare is working closely with local health departments to play our role with distribution of the vaccine.
We know these are stressful times and people are eager to protect themselves, but tier 1b is a large portion of our population and vaccine supply remains limited — so the patience of our community members is much appreciated as production and availability of the vaccine increases.
At Munson Healthcare, our primary-care providers will reach out to patients eligible for the vaccine as it becomes available. Local health departments will send out information and posting to their websites about upcoming clinics and how to schedule your vaccine. We also have links to much of this information at munsonhealthcare.org.
What this nearly year-long marathon has done is bring our community closer and strengthened our relationships, something for which we are extremely grateful.
Any marathon runner will tell you there comes a point near the end of a race when you hit a wall, wondering if you can go on and perhaps that is where we are now. The past 10 months have been rigorous but we have the hope of a vaccine to push us through and in these last few miles, must summon both our physical strength and our mental resolve to wear a mask, social distance and wash hands until we all can be protected.
We’re all eager to return to our loved ones and a life closer to what it was just a year ago. Your patience during this complex operation to vaccinate our communities is appreciated as are all of the supportive letters, donated food and well wishes over these many months.
Let’s all take a deep breath, know that wind is now at our back and the finish line will soon be on the horizon.