Bria Benson is an infectious diseases clinical pharmacy specialist at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.*
Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of people die from COVID-19 on a daily basis, and we’re tired. The majority of us have been masking, social distancing and trying to fight the good fight, but it’s not enough.
The vaccine is a crucial part of getting us beyond this pandemic.
In my role as an infectious diseases pharmacist, I’ve paid close attention to vaccine development, reviewed the clinical trials and have been privy to the vaccine rollout process. Based on the safety and efficacy shown in trials, I didn’t hesitate to get the vaccine. I already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and I tolerated both really well. The only reaction I had – and this is to be expected – was a sore arm and fatigue.
But not everyone is as eager as I was to get the vaccine. And I do understand the hesitancy. In the African American community specifically, there has always been a level of mistrust for the health care system. That mistrust is directly related to historical experiences, such as the Tuskegee Study, and the discrimination that we experience when encountering the health care system to this day.
Those are valid reasons to have mistrust for the health care system and the vaccine and something that Novant Health is actively making strides to address. What can’t be ignored is that our community has been dying at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups. Based on the transparency of the vaccine development process, the results of the clinical trials and equitable rollout, I believe that we have to put that mistrust aside and move toward putting an end to this pandemic.
For me, it came down to a risk/benefit analysis. You have the risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to friends and family versus the benefit of knowing that the vaccines are over 90% effective and safe as demonstrated in the clinical trials.
I’m not going to force anyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and I wouldn’t want to. But I will do my best to encourage everyone who will listen to get the COVID-19 vaccine, just as I did.
The power of social media
When I got my vaccine, I posted about it on social media and my friends, who are also front-line health care workers, have done the same.
I don’t have many chances to advocate publicly for the vaccine due to social distancing; I typically interact with friends and family over the phone or on social media. But I think social media has played a big role in helping educate the public about COVID-19 and the vaccines. I’ve seen a lot of providers, other pharmacists, nurses and physician assistants posting about getting the vaccine. It has allowed us to connect with friends, share our real-world experiences, and provide accurate information on the process and what to expect when it is your turn to receive the vaccine. It is my hope that by seeing me get the vaccine, it will make others feel safe about getting it, as well.
That’s the biggest way we’ve been able to advocate – stepping in and leading by example. We’re not scared to get the vaccine; we’ve gotten the vaccine. We’re fine. We will continue to be fine. Hopefully, by showing this faith in the vaccine our patients will follow.
The thing I want people to understand about this virus is how unpredictable it is. There’s an initial phase where the virus is replicating, but there’s also a secondary inflammatory phase. It is extremely tough on patients and can be hard to overcome. And we can’t predict who will do well and who will do worse. We have identified some risk factors – such the elderly, people who are obese, smokers and others with chronic health problems. Despite that, we have also seen young, healthy people do poorly.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of therapies to combat the virus once you get it. That’s why it is extremely important that we get the vaccine.
Getting the vaccine helped protect me, and it will help protect my family and the community. I trust in the process and hope that members of my community will do the same.
* Bria Benson is one of Novant Health’s seven infectious diseases pharmacists. One is dedicated to an outpatient infectious diseases clinic. The other six manage inpatient care, as a part of the antimicrobial stewardship team responsible for more than a dozen Novant Health acute care hospitals in the network. “I don’t dispense medications or work physically in the pharmacy,” Benson explained. “I’m in an office and at my desk most of the time. I don’t interact with patients on a daily basis but instead consult with providers on appropriate therapies for patients.”