Priscilla Johnson, oncology pharmacy technician, receives the COVID-19 vaccine from her son, Tyler, a pharmacy student intern at the LMH Health inpatient pharmacy. Photo courtesy of Priscilla Johnson.
Unified Command working together to vaccinate county's healthcare workers
George Diepenbrock, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health
When Priscilla Johnson, LMH Health pharmacy technician in the Oncology Pharmacy Department, rolled up her sleeve to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 19, a familiar face was prepping the needle — her son Tyler Johnson.
“Honestly, it was a blessed moment for me. With my own son giving me my vaccine, I was able to experience his education firsthand,” she said. “He explained things very well to me and encouraged me to get the correct information. I had no pain with the initial shot. I had some soreness later at the injection site, and I was a bit tired the first day. But I had no other symptoms or reactions.”
Tyler is a pharmacy student intern in the LMH Health inpatient pharmacy. He is also a student at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy.
“It was heartwarming. She definitely teased me, but I know it made her proud. She was actually my first vaccination outside of training,” he said. “It was awesome to apply the vaccination pharmacy skill in the real-world setting and show my mom what I’m learning.”
As Pfizer and Moderna doses of the vaccine started to become available in December, more than 2,600 health care workers in Douglas County have received their first dose of the vaccine as of Jan. 7. That number is expected to increase in coming days. Unified Command partners are working together to get the vaccine into Douglas County health care workers’ arms efficiently as the doses are shipped here from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which controls the state’s supply of the vaccine.
Also currently in Douglas County, Haskell Indian Health Center has received vaccine and is serving as a regional hub for Indian Health Services, and long-term care facility staff and residents have begun to receive the vaccine through the CDC's Pharmacy Partnership Program.
The state expects it to take through January to get through all health care workers and long-term care residents in Kansas and be able to move on to the next priority phase. According to updated information this week, the next phase would include people 65 and older; anyone living or working in licensed congregate settings and other special care of congregate environments; and any workers providing critical services who are at a higher risk of being infected because their jobs require consistent and close contact with a large number of individuals. Douglas County officials will announce an enrollment process for that phase when it is ready at LDCHealth.org/COVIDVaccine.
Priscilla and Tyler Johnson said they are glad to share their own experiences with getting the vaccine, particularly to encourage people of color to take the vaccine.
Equity serves as a lens of the Douglas County Unified Command Response and Recovery, particularly to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine as doses become available. In November, Douglas County’s Unified Command partners and Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health conducted a survey where 78 percent of 3,000 respondents indicated they definitely or probably would take an FDA approved vaccine.
While the overall number was encouraging, the data has also been important in helping identify potential reasons and barriers for those who indicated they might not take the vaccine. There were also differences across race in the survey, as Black and Native American/Alaskan Native respondents were least willing to be vaccinated.
“There are complex reasons why people responded with hesitancy. It will be important for us to continue to analyze this feedback as we work to plan and communicate with our community and provide them the information they need,” said Alex Kimball Williams, Health Equity Planner with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
Partners have worked to communicate information about the vaccine itself and the process to racially diverse audiences to work to encourage people of color especially to feel comfortable taking the vaccine, she said.
Dr. Walter Ingram, an internal medicine physician at Reed Internal Medicine, said this work is crucial because nationally how COVID-19 has disproportionally affected people of color, and the disease will likely exacerbate health disparities that existed before the pandemic.
“I’m getting the vaccine to protect myself, protect my family, protect my patients and protect the community at large,” he said. “The vaccine is safe. It’s been studied since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been given to thousands of subjects, and there have not been any serious adverse reactions. I would recommend you contact your primary care doctor first and foremost and let them know what your concerns are.”
Priscilla and Tyler Johnson said encouraging others to get the vaccine is meaningful for them because Priscilla’s father had an underlying health condition, and he unfortunately died due to complications of COVID-19. Priscilla said she was hesitant at first until she sought information on the virus.
Tyler Johnson said he recommends that people seek information about the vaccine from health care providers and public health departments.
“I would tell everyone to gather information about the vaccine using credible sources and make an informed decision,” Tyler Johnson said. “We have the opportunity to save lives and stop the spread. Please make a good choice.”
Kimball Williams said people can access information through LMH Health’s website, the Douglas County Coronavirus Hub and LDCHealth.org/COVIDVaccine, which includes FAQs that are updated as new information becomes available.
She said the clinical trials for both Pfizer and Moderna are very encouraging: the demographics of clinical trial participants were diverse and the vaccine’s effectiveness proves excellent for groups of color. Both Pfizer and Moderna showed 100 percent effectiveness among Black and African American clinical trial participants.
Priscilla Johnson said she has felt comfortable with the process since she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in December, including how the CDC offers a way to check in with people on their phones and report any potential reactions they might have.
“People are hurting and dying,” she said. “This virus is an equal opportunity virus, and there is no color barrier. If you have an opportunity to protect yourself and others, do what you can.”
George Diepenbrock is the communications officer at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.