Written By: Nicole West
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When the Covid-19 vaccine became available and distribution started, there was a glimmer of hope that this pandemic would soon be over, that we could return to what we once knew as "normal." As a frontline worker, I can tell you this is very far from the truth.
The phrase "frontline work" has so many different definitions when it comes to how we discuss Covid-19. From those who work in hospitals, nursing homes, to even grocery store employees, it means something different to everyone. Keeping this in mind, I want to explain what it is I do for a living, and then shatter your hopes and dreams that the spread of Covid-19 will be slowing down any time soon, just because we now have a vaccine.
I work for a major diagnostics lab. When the nurse swabs your nose, or you spit into the cup to get tested for Covid, those samples get sent to me. My lab is one of many who process the saliva, nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal swabs, etc., specimens sent in, run the PCR testing, and then send the results back to your doctor. Unlike rapid tests, PCR testing is considered the "gold standard" of virus detection. This type of testing detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus. It can detect the virus within days of infection, even in those who have no symptoms.
It may not surprise you that due to the nature of my job, we were first on the list to receive the Covid vaccine from the government. My lab received 1000 doses, and it was made clear that it was completely voluntary to be vaccinated. However, there was a catch. Due to an extremely short stability, if we as a company weren't able to administer all 1000 vaccines to the frontline employees, then we would lose the opportunity to receive any additional vaccines for remaining employees, along with their families.
I have been previously diagnosed, and since recovered from Covid-19. Because of this, I wanted to wait to get the first dose, as I still have the anti-bodies. This would allow those at a higher risk level than myself first dibs, and I could get mine during the second round. However, after talking with several of my coworkers, I knew if I didn't get the vaccine right away, I probably wouldn't be getting it at all.
As you can imagine, there was an outpouring of employees who could not wait to be vaccinated. Who just want to see things go back to "normal." Those same employees would end up being the minority.
What surprised me the most is the different conversations that I would hear in the lab. I've heard everything from the fear that the vaccine was approved so quickly, to some wild Bill Gates conspiracy involving nanobot technology, and everything in between. As with many other frontline workers, we have been working our fingers to the bone throughout this pandemic, diagnosing this virus all day, every day. We see first hand how quickly it is spreading, and with minimal signs of slowing down. However, this same diagnostics lab employing over 5000 people, less than 1000 opted to be vaccinated. Because we were unable to distribute our allotted vaccines, we now forfeit the opportunity to receive any additional doses.
I understood that there were many reservations when it came to the decision to be vaccinated. This is a new type of vaccine, one that doesn't include any live or dead virus, one that modifies your RNA so your immune system can fight off the virus. But when it comes to protecting your fellow man, sometimes, you have to be a pioneer.
I have participated in many clinical research studies when it comes to medication, so this was nothing new to me. The most controversial clinical study I have been a part of was with an Anthrax vaccine. This vaccine was going to be distributed to the US Military once it had been approved through various trials. Although I did receive monetary compensation, my reasons for participation were a lot more than that. I have always been a firm believer in science. I understand that in order for a medication to be approved, or to even see if it works, it must first be thoroughly tested. I also understood that I could potentially have severe side effects in each study, but it is a gamble that some are willing to take for the sake of progress.
Looking at my history, I am one of those who is willing to take a gamble. Not only for the sake of progress but also so I can selfishly have back some of life's little joys. Visiting my father in law who is in remission from stage 2 lung cancer, visiting my mom and siblings out of state, or knowing it won't be long until we stop seeing fights break out at the grocery store due to someone's refusal to wear a mask.
I'm not here to tell you what to do or what not to do. I'm only here to share my thoughts and experiences. If we want to return to normal anytime soon, more of us have to be willing to be at the forefront of medical research. The Covid-19 vaccine has been approved under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA. I get that the unknown can be scary, but just remember, in 1928, penicillin was accidentally created when a staphylococcus culture plate grew mold—and Sir Alexander Fleming didn't flee in terror.
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