As we approach a full year of weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, the first rounds of distribution have begun for the eagerly awaited vaccines.
The incredible efforts of researchers and physicians across the world are not lost on the doctors of Tryon Medical Partners who were involved in vaccine clinical trials right here in Charlotte. While trials were underway, Tryon Director of Research Dr. Tina Kennelly answered her patients’ questions about the future of the COVID-19 vaccine, then walked out of the exam room to work directly on that very future.
Now that the vaccine is available, Tryon physicians have been getting even more questions from patients and the community. We asked them to share the three most common COVID-19 vaccine concerns as they get vaccinated themselves and encourage others to do the same.
How was the vaccine developed so quickly?
“The COVID-19 vaccine has been successfully developed due to intense focus from researchers and
physicians, and efforts to decrease red tape,” Dr. Kennelly says. “I’ve seen it firsthand as we participated in this research, with the help of the Charlotte community. Like physicians across the country, I changed my daily schedule to focus more on COVID-19 trial patients, following them through every question and every doctor’s visit.”
After months of work, Dr. Kennelly was able to get the vaccine herself in December. It was an experience that brought her hope for the future and she’s hopeful others will join her in getting vaccinated.
“Not only does this vaccine allow us to achieve the immunity we need to get back to everyday life for ourselves, it allows us to protect others,” Dr. Kennelly says. “That’s the right thing to do from a humanitarian standpoint. From a moral standpoint.”
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?
“As an African American physician, I have the privilege to examine the vaccine through multiple points of
view,” Dr. Kirkland says. “There is an unspoken mistrust in the African American community with medicine due to an egregious history (Tuskegee Trial, Henrietta Lacks to name a few). As a physician, often to minority patients, I make it a point to have these conversations during our visits, as I believe starting the conversation is the first step.”
“I also review the data that these vaccines have a 95% effective rate, minimal reported side effects and, more importantly, underscore the fact that minorities are dying from this infection at a rate of three to four times higher than white individuals. With those stats, it should be easier to make the choice.”
For patients who are on the fence about the vaccine, Dr. Kirkland leads by example, sharing that she has gotten the vaccine herself. While she knows the vaccine alone will not eliminate the need to wear masks, she is thrilled about the chance to interact with friends and family again.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine have any side effects?
While Dr. Jennifer Womack typically sees her patients at Tryon Uptown, she has volunteered for much of the pandemic at Tryon’s satellite COVID-19 testing facilities. She has answered a variety of patient questions about the virus itself but, as the vaccine comes into play, many patients ask her about potential side effects.
“Similar to the flu shot, we know this vaccine is going to give you a sore arm, which is preferable to me over COVID-19 any day!” Dr. Womack says. “Many people will experience low-grade fever, achiness, joint stiffness and may feel a little lousy for a day or two. That’s a good sign. That doesn’t mean you’re getting sick from the vaccine, it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine and creating antibodies and that’s what we want. That’s the inflammation reaction of your immune system to the vaccine and it’s going to be prepared to fight the virus off if you’re exposed.”
After months of COVID-19 testing and sharing difficult moments with patients who test positive, getting the COVID-19 vaccine was a moment of positivity for Dr. Womack in an incredibly difficult year.
“We’ve been working hard and trying to stay safe, and this just feels like the beginning of the end of it,” she says.
For additional questions about the virus and testing, Tryon has shared its COVID-19 resources with the community. They also consistently share everything they know about vaccine distribution, including updates about how and where to get the vaccine in North and South Carolina. Tryon does not yet have the COVID-19 vaccine(s), as they are awaiting approval for distribution from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). They expect this to happen soon but unfortunately, details and exact timing are still unknown. In the meantime, it’s important to exercise the power you already have to fight COVID-19 by wearing your mask, washing your hands and maintaining social distancing.
Even as we continue to learn more about the vaccine’s distribution, what we do know is that it’s offering a glimmer of hope.
“COVID was responsible for stopping life as we knew it in its tracks,” Dr. Kirkland says. “This virus has wreaked havoc by snatching loved ones from our lives in a blink of an eye. I am excited to have gotten the vaccine as this is a step in being able to conquer the ravaging detriment that this virus has brought.”