Covid vaccine: Vietnamese-American healthcare providers rush in where some fear to tread

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenDecember 24, 2020 | 09:30 pm PT
Relieved after getting their first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, Vietnamese-American nurses and doctors hope more people will do the same to end the pandemic soon.

With Christmas around the corner, Thao Lai, an ethnic Vietnamese, has been busy at work as a nurse practitioner at Hoag Hospital Irvine in California.

But since December 18 she has been less apprehensive while caring for Covid-19 patients after she got her first dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer.

"I am looking forward to having my second dose in three weeks; I feel totally fine," the 36-year-old, who had fatigue and soreness in the arm for a couple of hours after the shot, said with excitement.

She said her close friend Mai Ha, also a nurse practitioner in California, too got vaccinated on December 18.

Thao and Mai are among many Vietnamese-American healthcare workers who have become the first people in the country to get the Covid-19 vaccine, which, according to many of them, will be a turning point in the battle against the pandemic.

Mai Ha, nurse practitioner in Cailfornia, gets her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on December 18. Photo courtesy of Mai Ha.

Mai Ha, nurse practitioner in Cailfornia, gets her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on December 18. Photo courtesy of Mai Ha.

The U.S. started a mass vaccination campaign after the first shot was administered on December 14. Developed by Pfizer together with German company BioNTech, it requires two doses to achieve the 95 percent effectiveness that studies have shown.

On December 20 the first shipments of another vaccine, this one developed by Moderna, were sent.

The shots distributed so far and going out over the next few weeks are almost all going to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care homes as advised by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

By December 23 more than one million people had gotten shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of these healthcare workers are keen to have the next shot, to be administered three weeks after the first.

Side effects like arm soreness and headache vanished within a day, Thao said.

"It was like a flu shot, and there are medications for side effects, which helps alleviate these symptoms." One of her colleagues also had these symptoms for several hours but they went away after she took medicines, she said.

Thao, who sees Covid patients at her hospital day in and day out, believed that getting the vaccine would protect her and her family.

Hien Nguyens Covid-19 vaccination record card says she will have the second dose on January 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of Hien Nguyen.

Hien Nguyen's Covid-19 vaccination record card. Photo courtesy of Hien Nguyen.

Hien Nguyen, a technician at the medical center at the University of Rochester in New York City, said she had been counting down the days for her first shot, and she got it on December 16.

"The vaccine gives me confidence when saving the lives of Covid-19 patients," the 32-year-old said, adding that more than 2,000 people at her workplace had got the vaccine, and all were "normal."

Minh Hoang, an oncologist in Michigan who got the vaccine on December 20, said when many people have doubts about the vaccine’s safety, "seeing medical providers get vaccinated will give them the confidence to do the same when the vaccine is widely available.

"This is the start of the end of the pandemic. When more and more people get the vaccine, herd immunity will be achieved, and we will be safe."

Wynn Huynh Tran, a doctor at Methodist Hospital in California, also shared a sense of relief after getting the vaccine on December 17.

He described the Covid-19 vaccine shots of hope since they would return the lives of millions of people to normal.

Speaking about his plans after the pandemic ends, he said: "I will go to my favorite com tam (Vietnamese broken rice) restaurant which I have passed by a lot and always wondered if I should enter... I will travel from place to place."

Trust science

But there is much uncertainty among people about the vaccine’s safety.

This includes healthcare professionals.

A recent survey by the American Nurses Foundation found that when asked if they would voluntarily get a Covid vaccine, 34 percent said yes while 36 percent said no. The remaining 31 percent were not sure what they would do.

Ngan Nguyen, a medical scientist in Texas, who has taken her first dose, said she has looked at the data from Pfizer and Moderna, "and they are all convincing."

Thao, who breastfeeds her 10-month-old son Ethan, said she believes in the science behind the vaccine and hopes her baby would get the immunity too.

"There are no reported side effects, Ethan is alright."

Doctor Wynn Huynh Tran gets vaccinated on December 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of Wynn Huynh Tran.

Doctor Wynn Huynh Tran gets vaccinated on December 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of Wynn Huynh Tran.

With December on pace to surpass April as the deadliest month for Covid-19 infection in the U.S. and hospitals across the country becoming overwhelmed and people dying in record numbers, these healthcare providers hoped more and more people would get vaccinated to bring the pandemic to an end.

"They put the mRNA (messenger RNA) into our body to teach our cells how to make protein. Then our immune systems recognize that the protein does not belong there and build an immune response," Hien explained.

She has been saying this to a lot of people to persuade them to get a shot soon.

Ngan and Thao hoped that people all over the world would get the vaccine in the next one or two months.

But they also warned that getting vaccinated does not mean people should let down their guards.

"I will still wear personal protective equipment when I care for my patients, limit gathering in a group and practice social distancing," Thao said as she rolled up her sleeve to start work for the day on Christmas Eve.

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