For the past few months I’ve been volunteering at M Fairview Hospitals and Clinics at their Ambulatory Covid Vaccine clinics. I’ve done all different roles ranging from greeter, observer, labeler to patient registration, and I have truly enjoyed interacting and talking with people from all walks of life. It has been a profound experience participating in the massive effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. In the first few days of working my four-hour shift, our team vaccinated over 400 people just in the morning at the site.
Since January, M Fairview, one of the many mass vaccination clinics in our state, has provided over 300,000 vaccines to over 150,000 individuals (including me!) in the state of Minnesota. As of today, over 60% percent of Minnesotans who are eligible are totally vaccinated.
It has been an astounding feat and also for me, a very rewarding experience being a part of it especially in the beginning when people would literally be crying tears of joy because they were so happy to get the life-saving vaccine. After over a year of isolation at home and hardly any social face-to-face interaction with people, I was able to suddenly be around people again and make connections with strangers from all walks of life. As an extrovert, it has been a healing experience after so much isolation this past year.
I’ve met many fellow volunteers including many frontline health care workers who on their days off chose to volunteer their time helping the vaccination effort. One nurse who I spoke with shared her story and it really struck me. She had been working as a Respiratory Therapist at the main Covid hospital in town (it was converted from a regular hospital to treat exclusively Covid patients when the numbers got so bad). Surprised why on her day off of working with very sick Covid patients she would spend her little free time volunteering at the Covid vaccine site, I asked her why. Her answer was simple. She had seen so much death, pain and suffering in the past year that she knew that she had to be a part of ending it. Her powerful words remain with me every time I mask up, put my face shield on and volunteer.
Even I who am not a frontline health care worker, but just an average citizen have realized how much darkness we have seen and how much we have all suffered these past fourteen months. Covid even struck my own family back in October although it was scary, fortunately we were all fine. This past year has been utterly brutal, tragic, dark, terrifying and filled with an enormous amount of anxiety and angst. Then to throw on top of the pandemic, we had a contentious election, the murder of George Floyd (less than three miles from our home), and the aftermath of upheaval, it has been perhaps one of the hardest years of my life.
Yet, to believe that a little over year after the news of that strange virus from Wuhan had spread around the world, becoming a pandemic, has already developed and administered 1.4 billion vaccines worldwide only 14 months later is astounding and a miracle. But it also comes with its own level of inequity.
As of early April, just 0.2% of the over 700 million vaccine doses administered globally were given in low-income countries, while high-income and upper middle-income nations accounted for more than 87% of the doses, according to Tedros.
A big part of the problem has been that low-income countries who have pooled together as part of Covax ( a global initiative to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world ) has slowed. Per the World Health Organization, “Covax had been expecting to distribute almost 100 million doses by the end of March, but due to a marked reduction in supply, we have only been able to distribute 38 million doses”.
We are becoming a world of two pandemics where rich countries are living almost like before the pandemic and poorer countries such as India and Brazil are living in death and despair. We need to come together as a world and help each other, and there is a lot that we can do.
Through the pandemic, I have learned how insanely blessed I am to have had early access to the life-saving vaccine, a vaccine that billions of people are in dire need of and praying for. Yet, others deny it filled with misinformed and distrust about getting the vaccine. Believing just like wearing a mask and carrying a gun, it is my own Godforsaken right and freedom to not get a life-saving vaccine that could save other people’s lives and stop the spread. In my opinion, I just think it is selfish but then again, that is America, there is a strong belief by many in their own rights and freedom.
This past year, I have seen an ugly, cruel side of America that I didn’t want to see. Besides the systemic racism that has been ingrained in our nation since its founding, I saw American people getting so upset over having to wear a face mask in a building that they have beaten people to a pulp, have verbally harassed others and have torn apart relationships with family and friends. Public health has become a political weapon and tool of control all over wearing a piece of cloth over your face. It shouldn’t be that way.
When I received my first Covid vaccine back in March, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt that I would be vaccinated when I knew the many countries and frontline health care workers in poor countries haven’t even seen a single shot. It reminded me again of all my travels around the world and how there is so much Americans take for granted. Safe drinking water at your disposal, excellent health care, schools, infrastructure and yes, that American freedom to say what you want without fear of prosecution. The right to vote. To have a say in our future without fear of being put in jail for life. We are so blessed.
However, after the guilt I realized that with this advantage comes an obligation. An obligation to help the voiceless and advocate for equitable access to vaccines around the world. Remember from my days as an advocate for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life initiative and the fact that millions of mother’s around the world walk days on foot to get a vaccine for their child. Whereas, all we have to do as an American is go to the nearest pharmacy to get a life-saving vaccine.
And a realization that by just getting my shot, I am in a small way helping mankind and making a difference. For every shot is one step further to ending this pandemic and saving more lives. We live in an intricately inner-connected world which we realized firsthand once the virus began to spread and didn’t take long to reach every country on the planet.
While everyone has their own beliefs, I truly believe the more educated you are on the facts and the truth, the more informed you are to make a decision. If you are concerned about the safety of the vaccine, reach out and talk with your doctor. Listen to this podcast to help dispel the myths. And please whatever you do, please don’t tell me that Covid is not big deal. That the tragic, avoidable loss in the US alone of almost 600,000 people is nothing. If you haven’t been personally effected by Covid or have lost a loved one from it, consider yourself blessed. We can end this nightmare, and return to a normal life. But it doesn’t come for free.
For me, if you chose not to get the vaccine for whatever reasons that of course is your choice. Yet for me personally, if I ever was inadvertently responsible for passing along this virus unknowingly to someone who would die, I would never be able to forgive myself. That is just me.