SHEET HARBOUR – Sheet Harbour native Adena McAvoy, a licensed practical nurse who received her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, is waiting for the call to receive her second dose, which is administered three weeks after getting the first one.
She was among the first 390 health care workers in the province to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that day.
The vaccines, which were stored in ultra-low temperature freezers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, were administered by RNs and LPNs at that location.
Data from clinical trials show that full protection is in place 28 days following the first shot.
McAvoy, a 10-year veteran in health care, worked on Unit 8.3 at the Halifax Infirmary on Orthopedic Short Stay, where elected surgeries on hips and knees were done. When the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled elective surgeries, her unit was immediately transformed.
“I received a call and the next day my colleagues and I were being trained by nurse educators [on]how to be a COVID nurse,” she told The Journal in a phone interview.
It was all new for staff, with McAvoy describing the transition as akin to flying a plane while you are building it.
“We were learning from other international hospitals at the time we were setting up … what did Italy do right and what did Italy do wrong?”
From the beginning the nurse realized the seriousness of the position for front-line workers.
“At first I felt nervous – until I got to work – and then I thought ‘This is not a joke.’ The number one priority was that we were protected, and we were able to help our patients when they started coming in.”
McAvoy was confident in what staff was implementing.
“These people are here to help me,” she said, “They are doing their best and now I have to do my best too.”
When the first COVID patients began to arrive, McAvoy explained it was just like any other patient she needed to care for.
“I felt sad and scared for them – not myself – because they were coming through these doors, looking at people and all they could see were their eyes. A lot of them were grown men – like my father’s age – and they were tearful because they didn’t think they’d ever see their families again,” she said.
When the vaccine arrived in Nova Scotia, McAvoy received the call asking if she wished to be inoculated, as it is not mandatory. Since she was not pregnant, breastfeeding or had autoimmune issues – she qualified to get the vaccine. Given that, the nurse still felt she had to think about it first.
“I have access to very smart doctors, pharmacists and researchers who I talked to about it before hand and they educated me ... even as to how vaccines work. I felt a sense of responsibility to my patients, co-workers, family and my friends. I qualified for it – I should take it.”
McAvoy feels it is important to encourage others to get the vaccine “to help us to get rid of the virus,” when the opportunity is available to them.
“I am absolutely personally pro-vaccine and professionally I am as well. One of the reasons I got it is because of the people who are nervous or don’t qualify for it. At least, I can protect other people by not spreading it myself,” she said.
Despite having the vaccination, continuing to follow health and safety protocols is important to McAvoy. She continues to social distance, washing her hands frequently and wears a mask.
When the number of Nova Scotia cases declined, her unit returned to performing elective surgery. The COVID-19 unit has been renovated to create separate rooms with five beds reserved for those patients. There is a nurses’ station and a plan in place for any new COVID-19 patients.
“We are more comfortable with the virus and are not as terrified. We are experienced now and have procedures in place with gowns, hand washing, and we work in teams of two – making sure our partner does not breach policy,” McAvoy said.
“I never thought when I decided to go into nursing that I would work through a new global pandemic. I also never thought I would be one of the first to receive the vaccine … pretty crazy.”
McAvoy concluded with her desire for her fellow Nova Scotians to soon receive the inoculation.
“I am excited for the vaccine to get out into the public and everybody else starting getting it.”
Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal