During my nursing career at Health Sciences Centre I have seen a number of local viral epidemics, from the frightening Respiratory Syncytial Virus affecting premature babies to the H1N1 scare in 2009 while working in Diagnostic Imaging. I saw first-hand how a contagious virus can quickly overwhelm a hospital, severely affecting even patients my own age with no prior health history. Over the last year we have seen throughout the world the devastating effects of COVID-19 for families, local communities, and even entire cities. Very quickly, hospitals in COVID hot-spots became overwhelmed and we realized that this virus is incomparable to what we have seen before – except the Spanish Flu of 1918-19.
I first signed up to be an immunizing nurse in 2009, after the H1N1 vaccine was rapidly developed just in time for the winter months. Community centres and church gymnasiums were filled with nurses vaccinating and volunteers managing the flow of people. We saw first-hand how a deadly virus (especially for those with respiratory ailments) could be stopped by a timely vaccine. Each year since 2009 I have been part of the vaccinating crew, and the 2020-21 has been a vital season for COVID vaccinations as we try to halt the deadly rampage this virus has caused. Retiring two years ago gave me more time to help in this effort, although my retirement plans have taken a backseat this year!
The sense of relief was palpable as we began vaccinating health care workers. When it came time for my turn, I remember wanting to skip to the table to get my shot! The sense of relief that came from getting the vaccine is something I will never forget. As a nurse the thought of transmitting COVID to a patient, family member, or friend fills me with dread. This vaccine is the most effective way to stop the COVID train.
It is not uncommon for people to be uneasy about a new vaccine, and the COVID vaccine is no exception. When someone comes in for their shot and needs some reassurance, the best way I can help is explain how the vaccine works. I ask them to imagine that the vaccine gives your body a “photo” of the virus so it can build the body’s defenses to be able to fight it in the future. The vaccine, in effect, builds an “army” of defense, and the side-effects one might experience are a result of that “army” being built. Typically, one has a sore arm for about 24 hours after the vaccine is given, but some have mild aches, fever, chills, swollen glands – all signs that the body is building its defenses. The knowledge that protection is 50% only one week after the first shot is quite reassuring!
This virus has caused so much personal grief and family tragedy, and for those affected we need to grieve with them. For those who have not been tragically affected, there can be some silver linings: more time with family and pets, slowing our hectic pace, and remembering that we can be part of something bigger than ourselves – that we can work together to protect the vulnerable among us. As an immunizing nurse, it has been really satisfying to be part of the effort to help protect all Manitobans!