Last year, our world changed. COVID brought a lot of fear, sadness, and frustration to people in general, but as a kidney transplant recipient not only did I worry about COVID-19, I also worried about the vaccination too.
Luckily, I had lots of resources available where I could ask questions about the COVID-19 virus and vaccination. I’ve had my kidney transplant for 22 years and have been able to successfully avoid a number of infectious diseases over the years. I also happen to be a dental hygienist and have provided dental services for patients with a history of different infectious diseases. I remember when HIV was new, and back then we didn’t know a lot about it. It was a scary time but we learned who offered reliable, evidence-based (also known as science-based) research. And “universal protocols” were introduced too.
Universal protocols is a term frequently used by healthcare providers. The standard infectious protocols require that every patient must be treated as if they have an infectious disease. I believe CKD patients and kidney transplant recipients know how important it is that we wash our hands frequently because we can never know if something we touch is clean or not. We also know that we must practice good hygiene, and avoid people who might have an infectious disease. This is how we survived before COVID and how we will continue to survive!
As COVID began to spread around the globe like wildfire, it became evident that isolating from others who were ill could be a difficult task. Not only did we need to know what kind of mask to wear, but also where to find one. This was our challenge. And if we found one, could we be sure it was really as good as they claimed?
Weeks after COVID popped up, new variants also popped up around the globe. Today, according to my rheumatologist, there are now thousands of variants. It became obvious that I couldn’t just isolate until this was over. The cause of my kidney disease is a rare autoimmune disorder similar to Lupus. And I am not just caring for myself, I am the sole caregiver of my 86-year-old mother who has COPD and a fib. We are equally at risk and so I began to research the different COVID 19 vaccines.
My medical team recommended the vaccine for me. They had weighed the pros and cons and decided that the risk of me getting the disease and having complications far outweighed the risk of possibly having a reaction from a vaccine.
COVID, also known as Coronavirus, originally came to our attention through the SARS virus. Scientist and researchers had already started researching the original COVID virus in 2003. So, although it looks like the COVID vaccine/research was done quickly, a few years of research had already been performed in response to the original virus from the 2003 outbreak.
Every state is managing its own COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and therefore the rules may differ from state to state. I live in Texas where level 1a – is for healthcare providers, first responders, and front-line workers. Level 1 b – is allocated for people over 65 years of age and for those with chronic health issues. When the vaccine became available to me, I signed up. My mother and I have now had both injections of the Moderna vaccine.
My arm, and my mother’s arm, were sore after the vaccine but we did not experience any other side effects. We were instructed to stay at the vaccination site for 15 minutes to be sure we didn’t have a reaction. It was a positive experience.
I get the influenza and pneumonia vaccines as recommended by my medical team. Because I’m over 50 years old, I started the Shingrix vaccine in January (a vaccine for Shingles that requires a series of two vaccinations). As a dental hygienist, I had to have the hepatitis B vaccine before I started college. I view vaccination not only as a protection for myself and my family, but also for my community.
Below, I list the pros and cons I weighed before getting the vaccine. As you can see, the pros far outweigh the cons. I recommend that each patient discuss this with their medical providers.
- The vaccine uses mRNA (messenger RNA) technology, it’s not a “live” vaccine.
- Scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes for mRNA technology over the past decade – it is not brand new.
- An earlier outbreak of a coronavirus known as SARS arrived in 2003. Before the COVID outbreak in 2019, scientists and researchers had already collected tons of data.
- The medical profession believes that the damage of catching the COVID-19 virus outweighs the risk of COVID-19 vaccine side effects.
- This is the professional advice of medical professionals and scientists who developed transplant science and work with the immune system daily.
- The first transplant recipients had no guarantees either.
- Every one of my medical providers recommend the vaccine – my nephrologist, rheumatologist, hematologist, and chiropractor.
- No vaccine is 100% effective, but just like the influenza (flu) vaccine, if you do catch the virus, the severity of it is typically less.
- Observational research (research that is following solid organ transplant recipients over an extended period of time) follows patients for immunity from COVID.
- It was important to me not to contract the virus, not only for the well-being of myself, but for loved ones who are also susceptible.
- The COVID-19 vaccine is not 100% effective, and we will still must:
- Wear a mask
- Stay at least six feet away from others
- Avoid crowds
- Wash our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Follow CDC travel guidance
- Follow quarantine guidance after exposure to COVID-19
- I could have had a reaction to the vaccine, but if I had, the pro would be that it would have happened in the presence of medical professionals.
I’ve never had an acute reaction to a vaccine. But if you have, or even if you haven’t, you should discuss the pros and cons of getting the COVID vaccine with your medical team.
Cher Thomas, RDH, is a registered dental hygienist and a renal transplant recipient. After her kidneys failed due to ANCA positive vasculitis, in 1999 her brother became her kidney donor. Cher utilizes her experience with peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation to explore the relationship between oral and renal health. She lives in Galveston, Texas.
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