Frontline healthcare workers reflect on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

Frontline healthcare workers reflect on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

Photo Credits: Kiyomi Watson / Aggie

Three healthcare workers discuss the impact of the pandemic on their profession and their physical and emotional reactions to receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

As the first waves of COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out, healthcare workers are among the first to receive the necessary doses. Three healthcare workers discussed their physical and emotional reactions to receiving the Pfizer vaccine after spending months on the frontline of the pandemic.

Eva Teniola, a clinical nurse in the emergency department, was the first person at the UC Davis Medical Center to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Teniola received the first dose of the vaccine on Dec. 15, 2020 and the second dose on Jan. 5.

“[Being the first recipient of the vaccine] was an unexpected surprise,” Teniola said. “I am thankful, hopeful, relieved and amazed with science.”

Teniola reported feeling no side effects after receiving the first dose. After the second, she experienced soreness at the injection site but was otherwise unaffected and prepared to immediately return to work.

As a healthcare worker, Teniola stated that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on her workplace.

“It’s so sad to see the faces of my patients fighting between life and death and yet they’re alone, both young and old,” Teniola said. “And it almost makes me cry every time I see a colleague so burned out, emotionally and physically, but they have to go on and take care of others since they need us more in times like these. Everytime I go to work, I always tell myself, ‘All of this will end,’ and I strongly believe that.”

Teniola also noted the effects of the pandemic on her family members. Her 12-year-old son’s education and socialization has been impacted by the shift to online learning, and she is unable to visit the rest of her family in the Philippines due to travel restrictions. Despite these challenging circumstances, Teniola has hope for the near future.

“I am 95% immune and protected, but my husband, my son, as well as the rest of Americans, are not yet vaccinated,” Teniola said. “The good news is we have started the vaccination and that’s the first step. Anybody [or] anything is a source for spreading this debilitating virus until we have herd immunity, but I am even more relieved and positive that we are heading in the right direction.”

Christina Tran, a full spectrum family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 2. Tran reported feeling nervous, as she does with all vaccines, but also excited in the week leading up to her vaccination appointment.

“I felt a sense of relief that this is something that will help the pandemic, which has been so severe,” Tran said. “I was just glad to be part of the solution.”

Tran stated that the vaccine was painless as it used a very small needle, which she hardly felt. Tran also reported that the only side effect she experienced was a mild soreness in her arm, which did not inhibit any of her daily activities and lasted less than 24 hours.

“It was a really good experience,” Tran said. “Afterwards, they made you sit with the nurses in a socially-distanced area to be observed for 15 minutes and to make sure you weren’t having a reaction. I felt very safe and watched. I didn’t have any reaction and just left and I felt fine.”

Like many other healthcare workers, Tran has had to navigate the integration of virtual medicine into her profession. Tran said that she was surprised to find that much of her work can be done via telephone and online video appointments. Still, Tran noted that she has experienced a bit of virtual fatigue after spending so much time communicating with patients and coworkers online.

“There’s definitely a huge learning curve, to see what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with when it comes to virtual medicine,” Tran said. “It’s definitely helped me practice medicine in a different way that is still good and safe for the patient, and also safe for us, so that we can remain healthy and keep helping others.”

Although some may be hesitant to receive the vaccine, Tran recommends visiting the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for accurate information regarding the vaccination trials. While some vaccine recipients may be reporting side effects, it’s important, Tran said, to look at the prevalence of those same conditions in the general community, not just among people who have received the vaccine. Those conditions may be reported because they regularly occur in the general community, not only as a side effect of the vaccines.

“The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines,” Tran said. “Basically, you’re helping your body make a blueprint to fight [a protein in] the COVID-19 virus. You’re not injecting yourself with the virus itself, so there’s no way you can get sick from COVID-19. This vaccine is the answer to end this pandemic, to be able to be with your loved ones and to open everything back up.”

Natasha Abadilla, who is in her final year of medical school at Stanford School of Medicine, is currently in the interviewing process for residency in child neurology. Abadilla received her first dose of the vaccine on Dec. 26, 2020. Stanford initially excluded frontline residents, fellows and medical students from their vaccine rollout process. Eventually, all those doing clinical work were made eligible to receive the vaccine.

Abadilla described receiving the vaccine as similar to receiving a flu shot. She noted that, just like after receiving a flu shot, vaccine recipients may experience a slight feeling of sickness, but this is likely just a sign that their immune system is waking up. The amount of relief that Abadilla felt after receiving the vaccine led her to realize how tense and anxious she felt during the entire year of 2020.

“After I got the vaccine, because I just felt so relieved, I realized I had been harboring feelings,” Abadilla said. “I was feeling anxious that I might get [COVID-19] and transmit it to my patients or my boyfriend who I live with. I was feeling sad because I didn’t get to go home for Christmas for the first time in my whole life. I was feeling very stressed out about my patients and about what was happening in the world. Just the fact that I got [the vaccine] and I was seeing everyone else [get it too], and knowing that the vaccine was now being rolled out—[it] felt like such a relief. It was a really emotional moment for me.”

Abadilla’s education was put on pause at the beginning of the pandemic because medical students were initially kept home from the clinics and hospitals. Because many medical students are young and healthy, there was a concern that they may be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. After about 10 weeks, Abadilla and her peers were put back into the clinics as part of patient care teams, but were prohibited from seeing COVID-19 patients.

As a daughter of Filipino immigrants, Abadilla is interested in healthcare disparities and patient education. Abadilla said that more minorities have died because of COVID-19 than Caucasian people, are more likely to feel anxious about the vaccine and will likely receive the vaccine later than more affluent Caucasian people. Abadilla encourages healthcare professionals to talk to their minority patients about trusting the vaccine, and to make sure they know how to protect themselves against COVID-19.

“When people feel a little bit wary or anxious about getting the vaccine, I totally understand,” Abadilla said. “Especially in some communities, like the Black American community, where they were historically tested on unfairly and illegally with many other kinds of treatments. I completely understand and it is so valid to feel anxious. I would like them to have a serious talk with their doctor, or someone who knows their own medical history, and see what they say about the vaccine. Unless they have a medical history where the vaccine is contraindicated, I am almost certain that they will say it’s a very good idea to get the vaccine right now.”

After a year full of anxiety surrounding safety concerns caused by COVID-19, the vaccine is now providing hope to healthcare workers and the general public alike.

“I think people are a little bit more hopeful because the vaccine has increased morale by quite a bit,” Abadilla said. “It’s not as sad, gloomy or frustrating as it was before the vaccine came out. The patients that we take care of are still very, very sick and it’s still always going to be very, very sad. But it is very reassuring that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— features@theaggie.org