It’s Christmas Eve and she’s tired. She's been tired for the majority of the year.

Like most healthcare workers, she puts in long hours and long days. Days turn into nights, then back into days again. Time becomes irrelevant because it seems like she is always at the hospital.

Christmas for many healthcare workers looks like reheated leftovers, videos of gifts being opened, It’s a Wonderful Life on a muted TV and maybe, if they’re lucky, a tree.

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Still, she comes to work. She does her job. And, in many cases, her job is saving lives. This job, especially lately, would break most people. But for this nurse, we’ll call her Vivian, it’s more than a job – it’s a calling.

And the best gift she and her fellow healthcare workers could have gotten this year was the vaccine to COVID-19.

When the Pfizer vaccine was first released, it went to healthcare workers first for two reasons: If healthcare workers get sick, there will be nobody to take care of the patients who are sick. But, more importantly, the last thing healthcare workers want to do is transmit the virus to the patients with whom they’re working.

“As nurses, we are told to ‘do no harm,’” Vivian said. “Because I come into contact with many different people on a daily basis, I chose to get the vaccine in order to diminish my chances of spreading the virus. Whether it’s patients in the hospital, or those in the community, just the possibility of saving one life is worth it to me.”

That possibility is worth it to many healthcare professionals, as nurses, CNA's, doctors and more have lined up to receive the vaccine.

“It’s been super exciting,” said Hailey Bloom, Public Information Officer for the Casper/Natrona County Health Department. “Everyone in our office and all of our partners that we’ve been able to reach out to so far have been really excited. This is such a historic time and it really marks the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of us who never knew when we would get here.”

‘The light at the end of the tunnel.’ That is a phrase that is being used a lot regarding the COVID vaccine.

Many people, especially healthcare workers, have probably felt like they were surrounded by darkness. It has certainly been an emotional rollercoaster the past 12 months.

From the highs of 8 pm howls to the lows of catcalling press conferences, healthcare workers have been idolized, villainized and, in some cases, traumatized throughout 2020.

This vaccine, and what it represents, is the first really “good news” that many healthcare workers have received this year.

Kristy Bleizeffer, a spokesperson for Wyoming Medical Center, said that those who have volunteered to receive the vaccine are very excited about it.

“Everybody that is getting [the vaccine] at the clinic is optimistic,” she stated. “Our workers out there who are giving the vaccinations are working really hard and putting in long hours, but the mood is upbeat and we’re really thankful for this development. They think that this is one step closer to returning to a new kind of normal and that it’s kind of a light at the end of the tunnel.”

There’s that metaphor again. It could sound cliché to those who haven’t worked in healthcare the past year, but the vaccine really is one of the most important developments in the battle to reclaim some sense of normalcy.

“We’re really hopeful that this can be the last thing that we all have to endure in order to return to our normal lives,” Bloom stated. “We’re really excited for everyone to get back to normal and to be able to live a normal life, and I think this is the answer, for sure. It's been an incredible Christmas gift.”

It may not be the answer for some, however, and that’s fine. Despite social media comments, the vaccine is not and, presumably, will not be mandatory.

“[The vaccine] will become kind of like a standard vaccination,” Bloom affirmed. “It’s recommended at this point, but it’s not required right now. We have what’s called an Emergency Use Authority, so even in medical settings, we can’t require it, just because of that Emergency Use Authorization category.”

According to the FDA, Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is “a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Under an EUA, FDA may allow the use of unapproved medical products, or unapproved uses of approved medical products in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when certain statutory criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.”

Because of its current categorization, the COVID-19 vaccine is being given on a voluntary basis but, even after it is no longer under the EUA guideline, it is unlikely that it will become mandatory.

“We don’t require flu shots or pneumonia shots for the general public to be able to do things,” Bloom asserted. “Of course, the more people that get it, the better our herd immunity will be and the quicker we won’t have to worry about it. When you look at things like the flu, we still see a decent amount of it in our community every year and a lot of that is partially because a lot of people still choose not to get the flu vaccine.”

So, it’s not mandatory and, in fact, there are some healthcare professionals who are taking a wait-and-see approach to the vaccine and have yet to receive it. But many people are taking the vaccine and, in the cases of nurses like Vivian, it has less to do with their own health and more to do with literally using their own bodies to ensure the safety of their patients, as best they can.

The vaccine itself, unlike the flu vaccine, doesn’t actually inject the virus into the recipient.

“This is actually brand-new science and brand-new technology,” Bloom said. “It’s been in development for a really long time. But they’ve never been able to use it on this type of scale yet. Essentially what it is, is an MRNA vaccine. It’s actually part of the protein of the virus. So it’s enough that it can cue your cells to create an immune response to build immunity, without actually being the virus, which is pretty cool.”

So far, there have been very few adverse reactions to the vaccine, at least in Natrona County.

Alycia Simms is a graduate nurse, and she received the vaccine on December 19.

“My arm was pretty sore for about three days, but I haven’t had any other side effects,” she said. “It’s a two-part vaccine and I’ll receive my second one on January 10. It was an easy choice for me. I lost my grandpa on December 14 to COVID. He battled for over a month. I got it to protect my family and community, so hopefully they don’t have to lose a loved one. It gives me peace of mind that, as a nurse being exposed to the virus, I’m doing what I can to protect everyone else around me.”

And, really, that’s the biggest reason that many healthcare professionals are receiving the vaccine – to protect others. The biggest oath a nurse pledges is “to do no harm.” With that oath comes conviction and, with that conviction, comes hope. Hope that they’re doing the right thing. Hope that they’re making a difference. Hope that they are saving lives.

That’s what Vivian and all of her colleagues set out to do every day when they go to work. It’s why they put up with the missed holidays, the ignorant social media comments, and the sore arms. They want to save lives and, if the COVID-19 vaccine can help them do that, there is truly no better gift they could have received this Christmas.

Vivian could have spoken even more at length about the Pfizer vaccine and about how much she loves, values, and appreciates her job. But it’s Christmas Eve, and she’s tired.

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