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Separate paths converge: A journey to vaccination

Last Modified: 2/22/2021

vaccine conversation 2

This post was a friendly dialogue between colleagues Courtney L. Washington, PsyD, CSAYC, HSPP, clinical training director, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute and Kristen Varian, MA, doctoral intern, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute, discussing their thoughts, feelings and experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Courtney: As I reflect on my initial reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine, my perspective has changed dramatically. This shift came from a lot of research and seeking information from people with more knowledge in this area than myself. I recall my first reaction after listening to the development of the vaccine on NPR news update, “Well, I’m not getting that.” Let me be clear, I am a scientist, but I was also nervous and hesitant. I fully trust and believe in medicine, the scientific process and the efficacy of vaccination. I am willing to do whatever is needed to help control this global pandemic, but I am also a critical thinker and believe in the vital role of consumers questioning media messages. What was hard for me was trusting the for-profit industries that could potentially benefit from this human tragedy. However, I knew it was my responsibility to do my research before forming a conclusion. To do that, I thought it best to strike up a conversation with my good friend and colleague, Kristen.

Can you tell me about your experience?

Kristen: My reaction was quite different. Before pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology, I wanted to be in the medical field. As a kinesiology major in undergrad, I had to take many biology and chemistry-based courses. Through that experience, I learned basic concepts regarding viruses and vaccines. When I learned about the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, I was excited about the science behind them and the scientists who created them. I also read a fair amount of literature on the subject, mostly from a perspective of interest and fascination. I was almost immediately on board with receiving the vaccine as soon as I was able. I believe my background likely made me more accepting of the new vaccines, and I have tried to focus on the hope this vaccine provides the world.

Courtney: That makes sense. I can see how a background in this area is helpful, allowing for greater understanding and comfort. Kristen, since you have the background, can you tell me a little more about how this kind of vaccine works?

Kristen: Of course! The COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which stands for messenger RNA. It contains messages that tell our cells how to make proteins. The virus that causes COVID-19 has a “spike” protein, which is how it gets into our cells to make us sick. The vaccine contains the instructions, the mRNA, for how to make that protein. When injected with the vaccine, our body realizes it’s not supposed to be there and triggers an immune response to remove the invader. This immune response is the reason some people might experience minor side effects after getting the vaccine. What’s even more impressive is that our body remembers how to fight familiar invaders. For example, if a vaccinated individual becomes ill with the virus that causes COVID-19, the immune response will immediately protect them. 

Courtney: Wow! That knowledge and understanding must have helped as you thought about the vaccine and absorbed all the information provided. One thing that made this process challenging for me was the sheer amount of data to sift through. It’s challenging to know and trust what we are reading, and hearing is factual. It helps me to know I am reviewing a trusted and reliable source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and National Public Radio (NPR) when researching the topic. These sources were helpful, as I, like many, was suspicious of how quickly they developed the vaccine. In my research, I discovered that most of the barriers to the quick production of vaccines were related to funding. This made a lot of sense as many things tie back to economics. The most beautiful piece for me was reading information from the WHO about what countries contributed to the vaccine. It’s incredible to think about global communities coming together for the common good of humanity. I love that. This information helped me connect to the importance of community and of being human. It gives me hope and faith in our ability to persevere when we work together!   

Do you think your background helped in your immediate comfort?  

Kristen: Knowing the basics did give me some relief. Another thing that helped me feel better about the quick vaccine production was the research for developing other vaccines that went into creating it, meaning the scientists weren’t starting from scratch. That prior research, plus all the funding and collaboration of scientists worldwide, is what helped it happen so quickly. I think that’s cool. This knowledge also makes me so grateful for scientists who know more than I do and are so great at their jobs. It also makes me thankful for my body. It does so many amazing things that I don’t truly understand to protect me and keep me safe. Also, having been fully vaccinated, I feel better about the decreased likelihood of getting a severe case of COVID-19. I’m also hopeful that this vaccine will put less strain on our hospital systems and frontline workers working extremely hard each day to keep people healthy. 

What has been your experience since getting vaccinated? Are you feeling more hopeful too? 

Courtney: After all my research, I decided the pros of getting vaccinated outweighed the cons. It almost became a no brainier. I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Since being fully vaccinated, I feel much more comfortable and confident in my decision. Also, I experienced very few side effects, even following my second shot. At worst, I had some muscle aches and a headache. All of which subsided after a day, but I realize now that those reactions were my body developing immunity given what you shared above.  

After getting vaccinated, some people have asked, “What’s the point?” For many, the questions connect to not knowing how the vaccine reduces the virus’s spread since data is still being collected and no one is sure of exactly what happens after vaccination. My response to this notion? Let’s look at what is known. The vaccine reduces the severity should you contract COVID-19. This limits the strain on the hospital systems and decreases the mortality rates. There are benefits to getting vaccinated for the community, even if we don’t have every question answered.

Kristen: I have also heard that sentiment from a select few, especially around the need to continue wearing masks even after receiving the vaccine. I look at it as a small inconvenience to keep others safe. I would feel horrible if I were to infect anyone with the virus accidentally. That’s why I continue to wear my mask, social distance, and limit my daily activities to essential things. I would love to travel and visit my family or explore Fort Wayne more. I barely know what it’s like to live here after moving during the pandemic, but all of it still feels too risky. I feel the weight of continuing to live life in a pandemic just like everyone else, but I’m embracing the sense of purpose and responsibility I have in doing what is best for the greater good of the community. I’m looking forward to the day we can return to a life that’s closer to normal, and I genuinely believe continuing to do these things will get us there. So, in the meantime, I will continue to do my part.

Courtney: I wholeheartedly agree. For me, the precaution of wearing a mask, social distancing and being mindful to avoid unnecessary outings or travel is a small inconvenience that I am happy to participate in for the greater good. This pandemic has taught me a lot about what matters most, what I am grateful for and the human spirit’s strength and resiliency. We truly are stronger as a community. I feel hopeful that together we can weather this storm and reach herd immunity. I look forward to when times feel more “normal,” but I hope people remember how these experiences have impacted us all. I hope we can remember to be kind to ourselves and one another as it is more evident than ever how connected and interdependent we are. 

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