'Not a cure': Precautions still needed, says first Albertan to get COVID-19 vaccination

·3 min read

Sahra Kaahiye's left arm is achy but her spirits are undeniably higher after becoming the first Albertan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

When the University of Alberta Hospital respiratory therapist got the call to book her appointment, she was just excited about being among the first wave of the province's health-care workers to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

It was a complete surprise to learn that she'd also be the first not just in Edmonton but in the province.

"I wasn't waking up yesterday morning thinking that I was going to be doing interviews, I'll tell you that," Kaahiye told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

Alberta's vaccination rollout got underway in both Calgary and Edmonton Tuesday after a cargo plane delivered 3,900 doses of the vaccine late Monday.

Another 25,000 Pfizer doses are expected to arrive next week and doses of the Moderna vaccine should arrive before the end of December.

Premier Jason Kenney/Twitter
Premier Jason Kenney/Twitter

For Kaahiye, the vaccine is a ray of hope for health-care workers like herself whose mental health is suffering under the toll of COVID-19.

"People assume that as health-care workers, we're just so used to seeing death. But the reality is that on an average week in the hospital, they would probably be about one to three deaths. And it does impact you each time," she said.

"However, the amount of deaths ... that are being seen far exceed that of the usual, the normal. And so it's really starting to impact the mental health of a lot of my colleagues."

Pauline Worsfold, a recovery ward nurse at the U of A Hospital, is also on the list to get the vaccine.

"It feels like the light at the end of the tunnel — a very long, dark tunnel," she told Edmonton AM on Wednesday. "People are excited and anxious to hear about when they will be next, including me."

The recent upswing in COVID-19 hospitalizations has been incredibly stressful, Worsfold said.

'36 hours later, it's filled'

In the spring, recovery wards were quiet after all non-essential surgeries were cancelled in anticipation of a surge in cases that didn't materialize — until now, she said.

"We open a unit to have COVID patients admitted to on a Friday. And 36 hours later, it's filled," she said.

Both nurses stressed the importance of understanding exactly what the vaccine will — and will not — do.

"You can't stop wearing your mask or stop washing your hands or social distancing while the vaccine is rolling out," Wolsford said.

"Until we're told that the greater number of people have been vaccinated and that we have crushed that curve, you must maintain the restrictions that are put out right now."

Kaahiye noted that being the first recipient automatically makes her an ambassador for vaccinations, a role she is looking forward to — even in a province where 27 per cent of residents say they would flat-out refuse to get it.

She also noted that the vaccine is not a cure, and echoed Wolsford's comments that health precautions still need to be followed.

"[The vaccine] is definitely making me feel a lot more comfortable that should I contract it, I'll be able to fight it much easier ... and it'll kind of be just a much smaller thing than it normally would have," she said.

"However, we have to remember that it's not a cure that's just going to make this virus go away."