KEARNEY — As health care workers sat around tables at Oak Pointe Assisted Living and Memory Care in Kearney, the mood in the senior living facility the last week of December was jovial and upbeat; a hopeful sign that the cloud that has been the COVID-19 pandemic was lifting.

“You did it? You’re done?” posited previously apprehensive Oak Pointe employee Edythe Amos to the well-trained vaccination expert who stuck the slim needle full of the coronavirus vaccine into Amos’ right shoulder.

“It didn’t hurt at all,” said Amos after receiving her first of what will be two doses.

Initial apprehension

As health care staff were being monitored for side effects and adverse reactions to the vaccines they just received, they chatted about the importance of getting vaccinated and the gamut of emotions they have experienced in the past year working in an environment with the population’s most vulnerable.

“At first, I was against it, but now, it’s just another shot,” said employee Heather Brooks of her original apprehension about getting the vaccine. Her apprehension stemmed from a fear of the unknown, unknowns like possible adverse side effects, true efficacy of the vaccine and concerns about how quickly the vaccine was created.

Brooks is not alone, 29 of 61 respondents to a Courier-Tribune poll asking readers if they were skeptical about getting the vaccine said “yes.” In addition, national polls and reporting on NPR and in Scientific American show a segment of Americans, particularly those in Black and Hispanic populations, have expressed skepticism about the vaccine.

“It was fear of the unknown, period,” Oak Pointe employee Kimberly Dillinger said of her initial thoughts of the vaccine.

“If the vaccine works, awesome. Do I think it’s good in the long-term? Yeah. It just also depends on if it’s effective or not. … Really, I just want to see this virus go away. I want life to return back to normal,” Brooks said of her ultimate decision to get vaccinated. “Absolutely I would encourage someone to get it.”

Reasons to get vaccinated

While she was initially nervous about the possible pain during the injection, Amos’ nervousness was squelched by her need to make sure loved ones and the community she works with were protected.

“I did it to protect my family,” she said of her decision to get vaccinated.

“If you don’t want to feel as bad as you did, get it,” said Oak Pointe employee DeeAnna Salazar as advice to anyone who had COVID-19 and are undecided about getting vaccinated. “I had the virus and I don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

Public health experts estimate as many as 70% or more of Americans may need to get the vaccine for the general population to reach herd immunity.

“When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection or herd immunity,” states a release from the Jon Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “For example, if 80% of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick and won’t spread the disease any further. In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 50% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.”

Until herd immunity is reached, even those who have been vaccinated should continue wearing masks, social distancing and following other safety protocols because a chance exists they can spread the virus, states information from public health sources.

“Getting COVID-19 may offer some natural protection, known as immunity. Current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is uncommon in the 90 days after initial infection. However, experts don’t know for sure how long this protection lasts, and the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity. COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience sickness,” states a CDC release. “The combination of getting vaccinated and following CDC’s recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19. Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools we have available.”

In March, Oak Pointe, like assisted living facilities across the Northland and the country, issued restrictions on nonessential visitors, stopping family visits; and instituted routine testing of team members and residents as well as trainings for team members to help slow the spread of the virus. The pandemic and its safety restrictions have taken their toll on the socioemotional well-being of residents and staff.

“Everyone in our organization from frontline workers to home office employees to residents and families have been impacted by the pandemic in one way or another. Most certainly community life has changed for our residents and team members with tighter visiting restrictions and enhanced safety protocols, but we have seen them work and are proud of the changes we made early on to protect everyone,” said Aleshia Patterson with Provision Living, the parent company of Oak Pointe.

As of Dec. 31, total cases since the pandemic began reached nearly 15,000 in Clay County. According to Clay County Public Health, as of Dec. 31, there were 281 hospitalized virus cases with 133 actively hospitalized. In the county, there have been 195 deaths as a result of the virus.

One of the key steps in helping get back to life as many know it, is the vaccine, said regional health care experts.

“As health care professionals working in senior living, we believe it’s important for our team members to be vaccinated so they can protect themselves, their families and our residents. It is our belief the risks associated with contracting COVID-19 are more serious than the risks that have been presented from the vaccine,” said Patterson.

“I have an immune-compromised son. I take care of my dad, he’s at risk. It’s just important for everyone,” said Brooks of getting the vaccine.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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