COVID-19 and vaccinations – help is on the way!

January 28, 2021

By Sandra Millon Underwood, FAAN
Professor, UW-Milwaukee School of Nursing

Lately we’re hearing a lot about ‘COVID-19 fatigue’, where people are letting their guards down with social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands frequently, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines (CDC). Perhaps it can be compared to the ‘cabin fever’ syndrome that we sometimes experience during Wisconsin winters. At first the snow is a novelty and we embrace it, but over time, we grow tired and restless. The difference we see here is that, by letting our guards down with COVID-19 the result can be devastating or deadly to you and your loved ones.

Many of us have heard the biblical quote about not ‘growing weary in our well-doing.’ The same holds true with COVID-19. While help is on the way as Pfizer and Moderna vaccines become available, it’s important to continue taking the necessary precautions to stay safe until everyone—or at least until much or most of our population—has been vaccinated.

Dr. Aronica Williams

Dr. Aronica Williams, Chief Medical Officer at Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. (MHSI), agrees with the ‘COVID-fatigue’ assessment.

“For the most part, people are not as vigilante as they were initially in terms of practicing the CDC guidelines. However, it’s important to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing hands frequently. COVID was one of the leading causes of death in 2020, and now is not the time to let our guards down,” she said.

Dr. Williams is also a strong advocate for taking one of the two vaccines that are available through Pfizer and Moderna when they become available to various groups.

“Any therapy or vaccine has side effects and the COVID-19 vaccines are not much different than other vaccines. There are historical factors with respect to African Americans’ hesitancy to trust the vaccines, but there were African Americans involved in every stage of the development of these vaccines. As a matter of fact, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American woman, is one of the National Institute of Health‘s leading scientists behind the government’s research for a vaccine and she was influential in the development of the Moderna vaccine,” said Dr. Williams.

Dr. Anya Hartley

Unfortunately, the desire to celebrate with families and ignore social distancing during the recent major holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day) has contributed to an uptick of COVID cases and deaths. And, while that desire to spend time with family overshadowed the CDC’s advice to stay at home, Dr. Anya Hartley, an OB/GYN physician with Ascension Wisconsin cautions that now is not the time to become lax in following the CDC guidelines.

“During the holidays, people wanted to be with their families and engage in other social gatherings. We certainly understand that, but it’s important to continue to adhere to CDC guidelines until most of our population is vaccinated.

“We definitely need to continue the mitigation efforts of masking up, washing hands and observing social distancing, even though the vaccine is on its way for mass distribution and administration,” said Dr. Hartley.

And, as vaccines become available, there are a plethora of concerns surrounding who should get the vaccine, who should not get it, and which groups should get it first. Among those concerns is whether pregnant women should get vaccinated. While Dr. Hartley supports pregnant women getting vaccinated when it becomes available, she also said that it’s a personal decision.

“There are no studies available regarding the effect of the COVID vaccine on pregnant women, so I’m advising ALL patients to have a conversation with their primary healthcare providers. Everyone has a different health history. Ultimately, we don’t want to withhold the vaccine simply because of pregnancy— the benefits outweigh any potential risks. Vaccines are not a new technology. Based on previous experience with the development and use of similar vaccines, we certainly feel they are safe even though there’s no documented information,” said Dr. Hartley.

Patricia Dixon

Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce the chances of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough. Vaccines work with the immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. The combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and others offers the best protection from COVID-19.

Then, there are those groups that feel their age groups are less prone to the virus and they have grown tired of masking up and practicing social distancing. Some people believe that they are immune to COVID-19 or if contracted, they expect to be asymptomatic (not have any side effects or lasting symptoms), so they are less cautious. Two millennials, who had a strong desire to comment but asked not to be identified, recently contracted the virus, and know, firsthand, its debilitating effect.

“COVID is no joke! I had just started a new job when I was diagnosed with the virus. My first test came back negative, even though my spouse and son had the virus, so I called my doctor and got re-tested. That’s when I tested positive. I had a fever, body aches, headaches that nothing—Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen—would help. I lost my senses of taste and smell.

“No one is immune to coronavirus; it is very contagious. You can get it from something you touch or from being in a small space with infected individuals who don’t live in your household. I’m not sure where I contracted it, but everyone needs to protect themselves—washing hands, masking up and adhering to social distancing. We’re all okay now, but this is serious. As soon as it’s allowed, I plan to get the vaccine,” she said.

Another millennial who works in healthcare and recently had COVID-19 agrees. This individual had headaches for a week, but no fever. She didn’t think anything of it because she is prone to migraine headaches. After failing to get relief from the headaches, she finally got a fever, took a COVID test, and tested positive.

“It’s unfortunate that my symptoms presented this way because there’s no telling how many people I encountered. COVID-19 is airborne. It’s on surfaces, clothing and in hair and droplets of saliva. We need to wear masks or face shields, wash hands frequently, and even take our shoes off before entering our homes. I tried to do my best, and I still caught it (COVID) and brought it home from the job. It’s scary. I just wish people would be more considerate of others. Everyone is different in terms of symptoms. Even with regular, twice-a-week testing at my job, I got it and could have inadvertently passed it on to others,” she said.

COVID does not discriminate based on age, gender, or ethnicity. Patricia Dixon, Program Coordinator at Mc- Govern Park Senior Center, was also a recent COVID victim. She was off work for almost an entire month with COVID and shared her experience.

“I attended a funeral in October and I believe that’s where I contracted COVID. My symptoms included headache, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, and I felt very weak. I also lost my sense of taste and smell. It took me two days just to prepare a small pot of soup because I had so little energy.

“It’s important to remind people to wear their masks properly. I see people pulling their masks down to talk— that’s how COVID spreads. And just because you haven’t gotten it, doesn’t mean that you won’t get it. I’ve had COVID so I know it’s real and I know how it makes you feel,” said Dixon.

Stopping this pandemic will require using all the tools we have available. As experts learn more about COVID-19 and the impact of the vaccinations we need to do all we can to reduce the spread of the disease in the community. Avoiding crowded places, staying home (especially when we are sick), social distancing, wearing masks properly and washing hands frequently are all critical steps to take to help fight this deadly virus.

The Healthy Eating and Active Living Milwaukee (HEAL) is a culturally-tailored program that aims to provide education, resources to secure healthy foods, and active living supports for adults atrisk for developing lifestyle-related diseases; and, to empower adults to make changes in their physical and social environment to improve nutrition and physical activity. ‘Like’ their Facebook page that’s full of videos of healthy recipes and low-cost, no-cost exercise.

Resources:

Free COVID-19 Testing — https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/community-testing.htm
Source: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/decision.htm