For the past year, nurses and the entire health-care community have been working to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. We all continue to work tirelessly in the diagnoses and care of those affected, in the attempts at its containment, and the nationwide vaccination response called Operation Warp Speed.
The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is charged with the implementation of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program throughout the state. Following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DOH has issued guidelines for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines according to risk. (For more, see www.hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine.)
As high-risk workers, nurses will be among the first to be immunized. Thus, we have a strong and clear interest in learning all we can about the vaccines, their risks and benefits, and the plan for administration. We want to know that the vaccines are safe not only for us but for our parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Rest assured nurses have been at the table with DOH, content experts and other allied health professionals to ensure that everyone in our community can have their questions answered prior to deciding to either accept or decline any vaccination.
At an international, national, state and island level, immunization is a huge endeavor. Foremost, is educating the members of our community about this vaccine. Work is ongoing in developing the protocols and plans for the receipt, storage, transportation, allocation, administration and follow-up required.
Nurses, as well as physicians, pharmacists, public health and government officials have met together such that ourselves, our families, our community and our patients can have a strong sense of assurance as to the safety and availability of the vaccines, and that they are distributed in an ethical and equitable manner. Throughout these discussions we feel the standards of vaccine development have been met and that the vaccines offer a degree of protection from COVID-19 illness far in excess of any risk.
The phrase “Lucky you live Hawaii” is often heard in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has certainly been true. Hawaii has avoided, so far, the turmoil and overwhelming resource burden so common on the mainland and abroad. Our geography and ability to embrace measures such as handwashing, face masks, social distancing, crowd control and travel restrictions has been effective, to a degree. And now we have another tool: vaccines.
Vaccines will not be the panacea to close this Pandora’s box. However, know that you cannot fall ill to COVID-19 from these vaccines as it is not a live virus. They stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies to fight the virus when you come into contact with it. In clinical trials, the noted side effects included sore arm at the injection site, nausea, body aches and even fever, but no symptoms close to the hundreds of thousands of people who experienced severe COVID-19 infection.
It has been estimated that 70% of the population must be immunized before we can start to see the benefits of any “herd immunity.” Until then we must continue to isolate, to wash hands, wear masks and social distance. We must talk to each other about the benefits of these efforts and the ultimate goal: to return to work and school, to be with our ohana, and to be able shop/eat/socialize as is our custom in Hawaii.
Preventing the spread of the virus and getting the vaccine are two ways we can choose to contribute to the efforts of returning our communities to more normal functioning. It is up to each of us to make that decision. Hawaii’s nurses ask you to stay the course, get information from reputable sources, bear with the inconvenience for just a little while longer — and if it is right for you, get immunized!
Katie Kemp, RN, represents the Hawaii-American Nurses Association; Bradley Kuo, APRN, represents the Hawaii Association of Professional Nurses; and Steven Hobbs, RN, represents the Hawaii State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association. Other signatories include Linda Beechinor, APRN, Hawaii -American Nurses Association; Jeremy Creekmore, APRN and John Paul Moses, APRN, Hawaii Association of Professional Nurses; Paige Ulcak, APRN and Pamela Brasher, APRN, Hawaii Association of Nurse Anesthetists; and Daniel Ross, RN, Hawaii Nurses Association, OPEIU Local 50.