Dr. Cara Agerstrand, a pulmonologist and director of the Medical ECMO program at New York Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center, was one of the first health professionals in New York to receive the newly introduced COVID-19 vaccine. He describes below what it was like to get the vaccine and what development means for the future of our health.
The last ten months have been completely unreal. If you asked me this time last year to imagine what we will go through in 2020, I would never believe it.
The complete tragedy of this pandemic was not inevitable, especially in New York in the spring. We felt very blinded by the whole thing. It was COVID in Wuhan, then in Italy, and then, before you even remembered it, it was in New York. It seemed as if the world had changed completely overnight.
In late March, I panicked and bought a bike in case the subway closed so I could still get to the hospital. It was so unreal, to see these completely deserted streets and power in the middle of a workday in the middle of the wings against the light in downtown Manhattan. Every place in New York was quiet.
I remember starting one week at JIL, in mid-March. There we had maybe two patients with COVID. When I finished the week, our JIL was filled with patients with COVID. There were so many operating rooms that became ICUs because of the tidal wave of critically ill patients entering. Overnight, we had to develop and adopt completely new health care delivery systems. We had to train other doctors to care for patients with severe respiratory failure. We had to create ICU beds from operating rooms from the former hospital floors. Polish hospitals erupted in Central Park. It has simply become all-encompassing.
The torment and stress of spring is still vivid in my memory, which is why I was excited when I heard that I would be one of the first to receive the vaccine. I almost didn’t tell anyone about it because I was so afraid it wasn’t going to happen. It was such an extraordinary occasion for such daily activities. I mean, I get the flu vaccine every year. After everything we went through this year, this was the beginning of the end of this pandemic. It was a very humiliating experience. What a contrast to tragedy and despair now to have this bright beacon of hope in the form of a vaccine.
The vaccine really didn’t hurt at all and only lasted a few seconds. Afterwards I felt completely well, with a lot of energy and no side effects. Many of my friends and colleagues received the vaccine and reported it. A few had a slightly sore arm, but that was all. Basically, we were so happy and grateful to have been vaccinated, knowing we were taking this next, important step to end this terrible pandemic.
This vaccine will become our most important means of fighting this disease. With everything we did – social distancing, wearing masks, etc. – This vaccine is the next step that everyone needs to take to end this pandemic. With an estimated efficiency rate of 95% and an extremely low level of minor side effects, it is really effective. Every person I know from all over the country who has been vaccinated has had no side effects. No fever or chills, maybe just a sore arm for a day or two and that was it.
It is important to remember that the people who are developing this vaccine are scientists who are in this field to help people and do good. Their goal is to get everyone out of this pandemic in the same way as doctors and nurses. This vaccine has passed rigorous safety and testing protocols.
It is truly remarkable that within a year of even hearing the word “COVID-19” we have developed a way out of this. But we will only end this pandemic if people continue to do everything they can to stop the spread of this disease, and that includes vaccination.
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