I read somewhere that 30 percent of nurses were reluctant to get the COVID vaccine, but I didn’t think I would know any of that 30 percent. I was at work the other night when I realized that I was wrong. Newly vaccinated, I was talking to some of my nurses about their vaccine experiences. Several of us commiserated about our sore arms. I asked one of my nurses what her thoughts were regarding the vaccine, and she smiled uncomfortably and said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get it. But she wasn’t an outlier. Another male nurse walked up and agreed with her. A friend, a male ER nurse, was questioning if he really needed to get it. My own mother, a retired nurse, expressed hesitancy in obtaining the vaccine. The most common complaints were fertility concerns, side effects, and the speed at which the vaccine was developed. Everyone had their own reasons, but I thought my reasons were better. This is my attempt to organize my thoughts and have people understand the far-reaching effects of their decision to vaccinate. So if you still need a reason to get vaccinated, here’s 12:
1. I got the COVID vaccine because I work in the ICU. I take care of COVID patients and non-COVID patients, but these days I’m acting like everyone has COVID. I’ve had a patient present with nothing COVID-related and then come to find out he went out to dinner with someone who was positive before he started to feel bad himself. I’ve had patients with multiple negative COVID tests who start to decompensate and then have a positive COVID test. Nowhere is safe. I miss feeling safe.
2. I got the COVID vaccine because I’ve had too many patients die over the past nine months. I had a COVID patient in the ICU for over four months. And then he died. I’ve lost all sorts of people – grandparents in their 70s, parents in their 50s, children in their 20s. We’ve had couples and siblings admitted at the same time. Some people had comorbid conditions; some people didn’t. Every loss hurts. Every death could have been me.
3. I got the COVID vaccine because I’ve seen how the virus can destroy someone’s lungs. I’ve watched people struggle on noninvasive ventilation, prone on invasive ventilation, and paralyzed on ECMO. Sometimes it works, and it’s amazing. Sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s tragic. I enjoy breathing and would like to do so on my own for as long as possible.
4. I got the COVID vaccine because I’ve seen too many of my colleagues get COVID themselves. One-fifth of our group has been infected. Add to that so many nurses and respiratory therapists, and X-ray technicians that I can’t keep track of. Everyone has had to isolate, miss work, and be alone. I miss people.
5. I got the COVID vaccine because even though I haven’t gotten coronavirus in the past nine months, every day I come home from work with the anxiety that I am going to give this virus to my husband or children. And then my children will become super spreaders at their school. I hate these feelings.
6. I got the COVID vaccine because the vaccine’s benefits are greater than the known risks of the vaccine. 90 to 95 percent effective at preventing infection sounds pretty great to me. The injection site pain, chills, malaise, and myalgias, which I experienced were not that great, but they were short-lived (48 hours) and made tolerable with anti-inflammatory medications. All of it was still better than what I’ve seen from actually getting COVID. I would take ten more vaccines and their side effects if it meant I didn’t have to get COVID. *My only caveat here is if you have had a serious reaction to vaccines in the past or have life-threatening allergies. If that’s you, talk to your provider before getting a vaccine.
7. I got the COVID vaccine because the vaccine’s benefits are greater than the benefits of the virus. To date, I have not heard of any benefits of getting the virus. Over 330,000 people have died in the United States this year because of COVID-19. No one has died in the five months since people started receiving the COVID vaccines in the trials.
8. I got the COVID vaccine because I’m not going to make a decision based on the unknown. People say the vaccine might cause fertility problems, but if I died from coronavirus, fertility would be a non-issue. I’ve seen what this nasty virus can do, and it is too much of an ever-present threat to not do anything about right now.
9. I got the COVID vaccine because scientists stepped up for us. People argue that the vaccine was rushed. If the vaccine had taken 4 years to develop, people would have said it took too long to develop a vaccine. We have known about mRNA technology for decades. Scientists finally had the necessary impetus to get it done, and for that, we should be thankful and show some respect.
10. I got the COVID vaccine because I want to hug my mom. Needless to say, I was surprised when she said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get it. She was nervous about the side effects that she had heard about. She’s also over 65 with insulin-dependent diabetes and hypertension. I haven’t hugged her in 16 months. When I explained that she’d be able to see her grandchildren and me after she was vaccinated, she understood. I wouldn’t tell my mother to get a vaccine if I thought it would negatively affect her in any way. I really want to hug her.
11. I got the COVID vaccine because I want you to see me getting the vaccine. I want you to trust me. I want you to trust science. We’ve been getting vaccines since literally the day we were born. Vaccines work.
12. I got the COVID vaccine because I want to do my part to protect those around me. And I need at least 7 out of 10 of you to do the same to make this a success. More than anything, I feel like people have lost their sense of social responsibility. It’s not just about protecting my family or me. I want to protect my patients, the people in line at the grocery store, the person at the table next to me when I’m at brunch, the person I sit next to on an airplane. Imagine a world where we all looked out for each other, acted for the greater good. And if this pandemic has proven anything, it’s that even the most introverted people need a real human social connection. Because no one is an island. And it takes a village. And united we stand, but divided we fall. Let’s get up.
I got the COVID vaccine. Please get yours.
Joyce A. Williams is a pulmonary and critical care physician.