Some frontline workers look forward to COVID-19 shot

They’re slated to be first on Maui to be vaccinated once doses arrive

A vial of the Pfizer vaccine used at The Reservoir nursing facility is shown Dec. 18 in West Hartford, Conn. While a University of Hawaii survey of more than 600 residents last month showed that only 44 percent plan to get the vaccine once it’s available, some health care providers and frontline workers on Maui are looking forward to being the first in line. — AP photo

For some health care providers and frontline workers, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will put their minds at ease and signal hope for an end to the pandemic.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be arriving on Maui shortly for distribution to anyone who wants one. But first, health care workers, emergency responders and physicians who have been working the front lines are priority for Phase 1 of the rollout.

And while a survey of more than 600 Hawaii residents last month found that fewer than half plan to take the vaccine, others are looking forward to being first in line, after nine months of being on guard with their patients and families.

“Work would be a lot less frightening, you know, people walk in the door and you have know idea what you’ll get — anywhere from a simple wound to COVID,” said Robin Ferrier, lead registered nurse at the Hana Health Clinic. “I have no problems with getting the vaccine, I have no problems with the science, I can’t wait.”

Ferrier used to work two days a week in the intensive care unit at Maui Memorial Medical Center and two days in Hana. When the coronavirus hit, she wanted to stay in East Maui and not risk carrying COVID-19 to the remote population.

Ferrier said Friday morning that East Maui residents and workers need to be particularly careful because they do not have access to the same type of medical care and resources, like acute care beds, ventilators and a full medical team.

Ferrier is just one of two nurses at the Hana Clinic, which also has a few medical assistants.

“We are truly working with a skeleton staff. There are only about six that work in a clinical role there,” she said. “If one of us gets it, we could easily spread it to one of our coworkers and then that would very quickly shut down the Hana Clinic.”

With the rollout of the vaccine, she said that the potential for COVID-19 clusters or outbreaks can be reduced within the clinic, East Maui and the rest of the island.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have reported that their vaccines are more than 94 percent effective at preventing symptomatic cases. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved both for emergency use authorization this month, and supplies have started shipping to states. Both vaccines require two doses.

Side effects include pain at the site of injection, headache, fatigue, fever and muscle or joint pain.

But Ferrier has no concerns about possible side effects.

“Nope, not at all. I’ve looked at the science behind it and it looks pretty solid,” she said. “All the vaccine is doing is getting your body to hold an immune response to a tiny piece of the outside of the virus, so once it recognizes that, it starts to attack it.

“One thing I guess that is still an unknown is how long the immunity will last.”

In November, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Public Policy Center conducted a survey of 616 respondents statewide and found that only 44 percent plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available — a decline of 7 percent since the center’s August survey.

“It’s interesting that it’s actually declined since we asked the same question in August and I wasn’t expecting to see that,” Colin Moore, Public Policy Center director and associate professor, said in a UH news release this month. “I suspect some of this has to do with a general sense of uncertainty in their confidence in the government right now.”

Gov. David Ige and state health officials have been trying to push the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, with the governor emphasizing that COVID-19 vaccines will not give patients the virus.

“None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19,” Ige said in a Facebook post on Friday. “There are several different types of vaccines in development. However, the goal for each of them is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and signal that our bodies are building immunity.”

COVID-19 vaccines may be the answer to the worldwide problem, but then again, Ferrier said, “it could also just be another tool we use” to combat the spread of the virus until there is a solidified treatment.

Maren Anka, a paramedic at American Medical Response Medic 10 in Kahului, said “I’m absolutely getting the vaccine.”

“I want to keep my family safe, and I want to make sure that I don’t give (COVID-19) to my husband or my kid, and I want to keep my mom safe, who I haven’t seen since all this started,” Anka said over the phone during her work shift Wednesday night.

As a first responder, she is fully dressed in personal protective equipment every day but is still worried about contracting the virus or bringing it home because “you just never know.”

The Makawao resident has been working in the emergency medical services industry for six to seven years, saying that the pandemic has “changed work dramatically” and that there’s been “a lot of stress.”

While first responders have been notified about being in the initial phase for the vaccine distribution, Anka said she knows that not all medical staff — nor community members, when it’s their turn — are going to get vaccinated.

“I hope everyone who wants to get it, is able to get it quickly and safely, and that everyone has faith in the process,” she said. “I know that it scares a lot of people or they don’t believe in vaccines, but anyone who believes in science and how effective this vaccine can be in protecting our community — this is a huge deal.”

Long-term caretakers and residents of nursing facilities like Hale Makua Health Services are also at the head of the line. The facility is anticipating the vaccine to be ready for their staff and residents by early January, communications director Ashley Takitani Leahey said.

There will be enough vaccine for everyone who works or resides in long-term care homes statewide.

An administrator for Hale Makua Kahului said Friday that nurses and other frontline staff have “a mixed response” to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“I do believe we have some staff that are excited to get the vaccine. I also think we have staff that are hesitant because it is so new,” said Teana Kahoohanohano. “However, I believe my staff share in the opinion that we are all excited that there is a choice, that our kupuna and essential workers have the option of getting vaccinated in hopes that they will not contract COVID-19.”

Kahoohanohano, who works directly with residents all day, said that the vaccine is important first and foremost for keeping the kupuna safe.

“They are the most vulnerable and any additional viruses can affect them greatly,” she said. “It is important that health care providers are offered the vaccine so they can feel secure in providing care to potentially sick or at-risk residents without fear of contracting the virus or taking it home to their families.”

The current health and safety protocols at Hale Makua will remain the same even with the vaccine, and changes will be based on what happens on campus, within the community and statewide.

“Only time will tell, but I am hopeful,” she said. “It has been a long and hard nine-month stretch and we hope in some way this vaccination will allow families and residents to visit again soon. That is the ultimate goal.”


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