If you’ve been following the news lately, New York State’s vaccination rollout plan hasn’t been going so well. Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily assurance that the 3,762 vaccine sites across the state, including 343 in the Capital Region, are up and running—and that inconsistencies regarding when healthcare workers have gotten vaccinated are due to a supply/demand issues, as well as the competency of certain hospitals to administer the vaccine—thousands of people are still waiting to get the first dose. And the numbers don’t lie: More than 930,000 initial doses of the vaccine have been distributed to vaccination sites across the state, but just a little over 310,000 New Yorkers have received the first dose, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (If you do the math, that’s only about 30 percent of New Yorkers so far.) Of course, not all of those workers has accepted the vaccine, and reports vary on the refusal rates, which are anywhere from 15–30 percent.
With major vaccination hubs now set up and running at Albany Medical Center, Ellis Hospital in Schenectady and Hudson Headwaters Health Center in Moreau—with other counties, like Saratoga, having just rolled out their vaccination plans in the last few days—the infrastructure seems to be in place to get Capital Region healthcare workers and eventually, everybody else, vaccinated, en masse. But are locals actually getting vaccinated?
Saratoga Springs native Lisa Lyng, who graduated from Saratoga High School and recently earned her bachelor’s in the science of nursing from the State University of New York at Albany’s Empire State College, works as a registered nurse at Albany Medical Center’s Urological Institute of Northeastern New York and got the first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine just before the new year, on December 30, 2020. (She actually landed her degree eight days before getting that initial dose.) Lyng describes her office as an “off-campus” clinic and her role as not having regular, direct contact with COVID patients, but she does offer her nursing skills during overtime hours to pitch in on the front lines. “Last week, I helped out doing nasal swabs and tests for employees who were either coming back from being out of state traveling or exposed in the community or having symptoms,” she explains. In fact, the very evening after I talked to her, Lyng was planning on administering the COVID-19 vaccination to fellow healthcare workers. “It’s nice to be able to still help out,” she says.
So what exactly should you expect when it comes time to get the COVID vaccine? “I work in a clinic, so when we got the OK to receive the vaccine, my boss had to carefully keep track of who was getting it and when, to check for side effects,” says Lyng. She describes the actual shot itself as similar to getting the flu shot, and while she heard of others having side effects, she didn’t have any serious ones to report. “I had a very sore arm, of course, but no muscle aches or fatigue,” says Lyng. (In a follow-up text message, she said that, this morning, a rash had formed at the site of the vaccination, but she wasn’t having any additional symptoms.) She’ll now have to wait a few or two more for the second dose, which will again be the Moderna vaccine.
Knowing how scary it got in the Capital Region last March and onward (read this, if you need a refresher), it shouldn’t be lost on anyone how incredible it is that Lyng and her fellow nurses at Albany Med have been able to receive the COVID vaccine in the first place. Remember: The first COVID vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, was only authorized for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration on December 11, 2020 and the Moderna version, on December 18, just 12 days before the needle entered Lyng’s arm. In the grand scheme of things, the COVID vaccine is nothing short of a modern miracle of science, given the swiftness with which it was researched, developed, authorized and administered. Sure, there’s the boring administrative aspect of it: You have to fill out some paperwork and sign a consent form and read through the literature you’re handed before getting the injection. But the entire process is really quick, says Lyng. And of the experience of being able to give the vaccine to her fellow healthcare workers last night was special. “Yesterday’s administration was exciting in the sense that I was able to contribute towards helping others stay safe and protected against COVID-19,” she says.
At the end of the day, people will no doubt continue to refuse to get the COVID vaccine—or worse, maliciously tamper with it and hold up the process for the people that need it the most. But all experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will stay on as the chief medical adviser for President Joe Biden, point to the vaccine, along with continued mask wearing and social distancing, as the fastest way to get past the pandemic. “I feel that anyone and everyone who is able to get vaccinated for anything [should do so],” says Lyng. “There are always side effects to any medication you take, whether it be prescribed or over the counter or an herbal supplement. And each person’s body reacts differently. But if there’s something out there that can help ease disease or discomfort, protect yourself and others [by getting it].”