The day after I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, I was coming off a 30-hour shift and didn’t feel so great. I was tired, achy and had the chills – and I was thrilled about it. It meant my body was reacting to the vaccine and building the immunity I need to protect myself, my patients, and my family.
I’m a pulmonologist and critical care physician. For the past year, I’ve seen the cruelty of this disease close-up. I spend weekdays at my office, taking care of the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and those who are suffering the lingering effects of the disease. On weekends, I work in the ICU with people who are fighting for their lives. I was a member of the Intermountain team that flew to New York City to help when hospitals there were overwhelmed last spring. And in the fall, I said goodbye to a friend -- a doctor I trained with on the East Coast -- who died from Coronavirus. It just rocked my world.
Normally, I like to wait and study the scientific literature when a new medication is approved. But after watching COVID-19 ravage my patients, I was literally one of the very first doctors in line to get the vaccine. I was going to get it no matter what. There were a bunch of ICU doctors there at the same time and we were so excited. We were convinced that this is what we need to do to get out of this pandemic. I was so happy to get it that I had my husband snap a photo of me and shared it on social media.
When people ask why I wanted the vaccine, I give them three reasons:
- I don’t want to end up in the hospital or die from this virus. I’ve seen it happen to people in every age group and ethnicity.
- I don’t want the long-term symptoms. A lot of my patients are still suffering weeks and months after becoming infected, even after having what seemed like mild cases. Some studies show that 10 percent or more of COVID-19 sufferers have chronic symptoms like fatigue and memory loss.
- I don’t want to bring the disease home to my husband, daughters, or elderly mother.
Sometimes people tell me they have reservations about taking the vaccine and ask what I think they should do. I urge them to look at the data. Don’t ask Dr. Google. Look at good sources of scientific information. Visit the Centers for Disease Control website or read papers from the New England Journal of Medicine. Listen to true experts like virologists or the people at the Utah Department of Health. The people who run the UDOH are really great. If Dr. Angela Dunn says take the vaccine, trust her.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is seeing my regular patients in the clinic again. Many of my patients are very fragile and have complicated health problems. For the past year, I’ve been doing telehealth visits with them for everyone’s safety. We do a good job with those appointments, but nothing replaces an in-person visit. My patients miss human connection, and I miss being with them. As soon as they’re vaccinated and we can be together safely, I want to see them back in my office.
In my personal life, I won’t make many changes. Until we know how long immunity lasts after vaccination or if it’s still possible to pass the virus on to others, we all have to remain cautious about protecting ourselves and our community. A friend and I used to drive separate cars into the mountains to hike together. Now that we’re both vaccinated, we might drive in the same car, but with masks on and the windows down. The next time I need to fly, I’ll feel safer – but I will still be vigilant, wear my mask, and maintain physical distance as much as possible, especially when boarding.
I’m so excited that the vaccine is here. It feels like I can almost see light at the end of the tunnel.