I walked through the balmy North Carolina winter into our offsite vaccination center. I bared my arm and took the jab. It was over in seconds. Little pain, so much gain.
As the Chief of Disaster Medicine and a frontline ER doctor at Atrium Health’s Carolina Medical Center I was one of the first people in North Carolina to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. I had helped lead teams during the MERS, Ebola, and now COVID-19 responses. Over the past nine months, I have seen COVID-19 wreak so much devastation that I would have waited in the cold and dark all night to hold my place in line to show the importance of the vaccination.
Even today, up to 50% of Americans are not sure about whether to get the vaccine. I get it, this whole pandemic and the vaccine development process is really complex. And, honestly, I was a little anxious about taking a new type of vaccine too. But the science is solid. By all accounts the process was rigorous. The FDA, CDC and pharmaceutical companies provided transparent information on side effects and efficacy. And, at the end of the day, we have to be able to make decisions without knowing all of the information. This is what we do in crisis and must be what we do to survive in a modern world. I know the exceedingly dangerous consequences of COVID-19, and they are far worse than anything reported with the vaccine.
The fact is that the COVID-19 vaccine is game-changer. It means we are rounding a corner and we can see the dawn slowly coming up over the horizon. It means I get to have more teaching moments with my kids. It means that we have the opportunity to not lose 3,000 Americans a day to this damn virus. It means that if we are smart and if we come together as a community to get all Americans vaccinated, we can get back to the business of living our lives.
I wanted to be first in line for this vaccine to show that I believe in this vaccine is safe and will save lives. Period. So on December 17, four days after my 47th birthday, I rolled up my sleeves, took a bit of ribbing about my lack of “guns,” and got the first of the two shots.
It was less painful than the flu shot and certainly way better than the Anthrax vaccine I got prior to heading to the Middle East. I actually had no pain during the shot and my arm only ached a little for a day. That shot felt way better than wearing an N95 or respirator for eight hours on shift. Hell, it felt better than wearing it for an hour.
For a brief moment, I was excited. But mostly, I felt thankful. Thankful for all of the people who put thousands of hours into developing the vaccine. Thankful to the staff who built an amazing plan to vaccinate our community despite having very little information. Thankful to all of our healthcare workers who stand on the frontlines of this battle and say “not today, not on my shift.” And, thankful to be part of the Greyshirt Nation, filled with so many servant leaders.
I also felt a kind of weary hope. The vaccination marks the beginning of our path to recovery. But it will be a very long road, and I know that we are not out of the woods yet. I just hope people can shelve the contempt and come together as a community. It is the only way we as a nation will survive. Right now, this vaccine is our road out. Americans need the opportunity to earn a paycheck again and to get back to life. The COVID vaccination is the only way that ultimately, we can get our kids back in school, our businesses open, and our communities back on their feet.
For disaster relief volunteers like Team Rubicon’s Greyshirts, the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine will also mean it is time to step back into the arena. As Greyshirts we have a vital role in building trust around the vaccine and will play an important role in scaling vaccination delivery across the country. So, put on your boots, mask up, and get ready to serve.
When you have the chance, get vaccinated yourself. Then motivate your friends and families to get in line. This is the first step in our recovery. But it is only the first step. For the foreseeable future, we still need to wear our masks, physical distance, and wash our hands. We can’t let up. We have to continue those actions straight through this pandemic, even after many of us have been vaccinated. I know it’s a pain in the ass, but you—we—can do it.
While I’ve had the first round of the vaccine now, I still mask in public, I still go max PPE when caring for ill patients, and still confine my social life to virtual happy hours, physically distanced outdoor meetups, and only hang out within my quarantine bubble.
The pandemic is a suck. And it will be a suck until we are all vaccinated. So, let’s step up and get through this together. Take your shot.