By Amy Heithoff-Dominguez, MSA, BSN, RNC, CCM, RN-BC
It seems like a whole new world in Fall 2021 than what we were all experienced last year at this time. The fear of being infected or bringing Covid-19 home to my family was so high and ever present in my daily actions. We knew that the vaccine was coming, but we didn’t have a date for the rollout. The days of extreme social isolation, the never-ending Zoom calls, the challenges of staying supplied with enough PPE, enough toilet paper, enough faith, and optimism to keep going were painful.
A week before Christmas and out of the blue, I was offered a dream job of being the Clinical Director for the first mass vaccination clinic in the metropolitan area of Kansas City in a county with high poverty indicators. I said yes immediately before I knew any details of the position. I had prayed that opportunities such as this would start to unfold and right before my eyes, one such opportunity was in my grasp. To say that I was thrilled, humbled and scared to death is an understatement. Within a couple of days, I met the team that had been preparing for several months in an abandoned Kmart. The wisdom of the County Public Health Department shone brightly – they were prepared for what was about to unfold. The subzero freezers that the Pfizer vaccine once required, massive amounts of syringes, red sharps containers, PPE for staff and volunteers, mapped out pathways of aisles separated with retractable stanchions that always kept everyone 10 feet away from another human and the necessary detailed eligibility lists of who could receive the vaccine became my world.
I delved into creating safety protocols for those who may have an allergic reaction, training staff to accurately store, thaw, dilute, and administer the 3 different types of vaccine. Not knowing how people would react to the vaccine, I retook Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Basic Cardiac Life Support as well as asked that at least one other nurse do the same. My goal was to create an inviting, fast-moving place where people would feel safe as well as have privacy for receiving the injection. We were fortunate to have EMS personnel 5 minutes away, but as a former certified Intensive Care Nurse, I knew the value of immediate resuscitation when needed. An added bonus of accepting this position, I was able to be vaccinated in the afternoon of my first day on the job. I call it the Christmas Miracle! In my rush during this holiday time, I neglected to eat or drink before I received the vaccine. I was also very emotional and had such gratitude for this moment of being able to be vaccinated with the long-sought vaccine for the prevention of Covid. I was the first patient to experience the adverse reaction section of our mass vaccination clinic. I was cared for very well and recovered from my dizziness and did not faint. I learned to encourage everyone to be hydrated and have eaten recently as it really helps with avoiding fainting.
The weeks progressed in a way that none of us had ever experienced. Rationing out the lifesaving vaccine to those at the highest risk proved to be a challenge, as we had people lining up for the extras every day. I made a personal vow not to waste a single dose, and I’m proud to say that I kept that promise. Educating the community about the vaccine, how to have the best experience in receiving it, and the need to continue to mask up, social distance continued to be my daily work.
If you had told me then that the biggest problem we would have was the antivaccination mentality and that a full 50% of the categories of people who were eligible to be vaccinated did not show up for their vaccines, I would have disagreed with you. It started early on with health care professionals, much to my dismay and continued to other essential workers with the fire department, police department, EMTs. The importance of sharing factual information of the safety of the vaccines became my daily mission which I shared at every opportunity.
Many times, I walked with individuals as they came for the vaccination but were scared and hesitant. I answered their questions, shared information, and encouraged them to bring their whole family and friend group back for their vaccinations as they left our clinic having had a good experience. The many experiences of sharing hope for the future and exhilaration that we were part of the solution for this deadly pandemic made each day joyful. Finally, we emerged to a point where we had offered the vaccine to all the high-risk categories, and we were now open to the public. It felt great to have been a part of such a successful public health intervention, but it was sad to see the declining daily numbers of vaccinations over the summer months. Many enticements for vaccinations were being tried without a lot of success. During my 5 months of being embedded into a public health department, we gave 65,000 doses with 25,000 being completed doses. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and continue to be very invested in reaching herd immunity, combating misinformation, and encouraging everyone to receive their 3rd booster dose. I support mask mandates and vaccine mandates for all companies and groups, especially for the healthcare industry, schools and universities, and private businesses. Let us remember the past successes we’ve had with smallpox, polio and so many other awful communicable diseases. I hope that our information streams will be flooded with accurate promotions for vaccination. It’s the only way for our world to be safe again.