In March 2020, the world was shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the country and around the world. Once again, people didn’t know much about the virus – and they didn’t really know how to protect themselves other than locking themselves in their homes and avoiding other people, so John and his wife were crouched in their Florida apartment miles from their children .
“The hardest aspect of the shutdown was just feeling helpless,” he says, especially as the pandemic affected his family.
“My son is a pilot and has not been able to fly since the restrictions began,” he says. “My daughter and her husband had to work from home while caring for their 9-month-old baby because their daycare was closed. They later both lost their jobs. [Editorial Note: John Scully is the author’s father.]
The hardest part, however, was not being able to visit his mother, who was 104 years old and lived in an assisted living facility in Minnesota for all of 2020. They called on the phone every day to help her cope with the isolation, but it took its toll on her. By January 2021, her eyesight had deteriorated, she had a couple of severe falls, and it was clear that she needed additional care. So he and his siblings decided to take them to a nursing home.
She was diagnosed with COVID-19 within a week and died on January 30, 2021 after fighting the virus for 10 days. “I was angry when my mother got COVID,” he says, “because it felt like massive incompetence. Over 100 residents and staff got COVID in the facility where she died.”
It also hurt that this loss occurred around the same time that hope seemed in sight: vaccines had arrived, and he and his wife were eligible. They took their pictures at a transit point. He celebrated by seeing his grandson – who was now 21 months old – for the first time since December 2019. “We have to be there for his first swimming lesson in our pool,” he says.
For John, his experiences with the polio epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic have shown the importance of vaccines to public health in his life. “I am much less concerned than in 2020 and will become more optimistic when the success of the vaccination effort is realized, but I am still concerned about how many will oppose vaccination,” says John. “And I’m worried about the viruses out there that we don’t know about.”
“But I am confident that science can find a way,” he adds. “I am hopeful for the future.”
Dr. Alvin Cantero, Nurse and CEO of Alvin Clinica Familiar in Houston, Texas
Photo courtesy of Walden University
Dr. Alvin Cantero has always wanted to help others. He had been a doctor in his native Cuba, and after immigrating to the United States in 2009, he decided to graduate in nursing to take care of his family at home. He also wanted to help underserved communities. While working toward his Masters in Nursing Science and Doctorate in Nursing Practice from Walden University, he opened a clinic in a Hispanic and African neighborhood in Houston, Texas.
“The aim was to provide quality care to underserved people such as the homeless, veterans, immigrants, refugees and all those people who do not have enough resources to find other care,” he says.
When the pandemic hit Houston, some clinics were closed. But he refused to close the doors of his clinic. He knew his patients had nowhere else to go.
“A lot of my patients were very scared. They had nowhere to go and got infected after believing the pandemic was just like the typical flu or cold,” he says. “Then when people started dying they got even more frightened.”
“My patients went from 10 to 15 patients per day to 50 to 60 per day,” he continues.
“I offer my clinic as accommodation for these patients,” he says. In doing so, he plays an important role in gaining their trust: helping them educate them about the importance of prevention and tackling misinformation about science, healthcare, and the role of vaccines in keeping people safe.
He first encountered this type of misinformation while working on his PhD thesis on human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines at Walden University. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, which can lead to six types of cancer later in life. He met a number of parents who were reluctant to give their children the vaccine. “They were afraid that this could lead to early sexual relationships or have negative psychological effects,” he says.
This vaccine hesitation experience was invaluable in determining how he would later approach preventive care education efforts with his patients in his clinic – especially after the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I have some patients who have told me they don’t want that [COVID-19] Vaccination for hearing things that are not right, “he says.” You believed many conspiracy theories. ”
So he does what he can to raise them – and starts telling them why he was vaccinated himself. “I tell them I have to protect you, I have to protect my family, I have to protect my community, so I have the vaccine,” he explains. “I show them my vaccination card and then explain the benefits [and risks] of vaccination and why the conspiracy theories are not true. “
“You can’t be pushy,” he continues. “You have to be patient. You have to do it through family intervention, and you have to do it through community too.” That’s why, Alvin says, he regularly goes to the YMCA and local churches to talk about the importance of vaccines.
“Vaccinations are a very important part of national preparedness and we still have a long way to go to educate the population and stop spreading unscientific misleading information,” he says. Because of this, it’s important “to work closely with community leaders who can help us change negative perceptions of vaccines in underserved communities. This can prevent further outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles.”
So far, Alvin is optimistic that the future of medicine will be less fearful of vaccines. “More and more patients and families are coming to my practice looking for help and guidance to sign up for their COVID-19 vaccinations,” he says. “They are also inquiring about further regular vaccination schedules for their children and adolescents.”
“I’m very optimistic,” he continues when asked if these educational efforts will pay off after the pandemic. “There will be an enormous positive change in the basic supply in the future.”
Ingrid Scully, Pfizer scientist specializing in immunology
Photo courtesy Ingrid Scully
Pfizer scientist Ingrid Scully (unrelated to John Scully) has never doubted the importance of vaccines.
“To paraphrase a great scientist in vaccines, after providing safe drinking water, vaccines have had the greatest impact on human health,” she says.
This is one of the reasons Ingrid got involved in vaccine research and development after her postdoctoral fellowship.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors and we saw a lot of PBS at home,” she says. “My grandparents bought me National Geographic books and I memorized facts about different animals.” Later in life, educators helped nurture her love of science, including one that introduced her to immunology, the study of the immune system.
“What I loved most about immunology is that it is all connected,” she says.
Ingrid has been with Pfizer for 16 years. “I lead teams that develop tests to see if the vaccines we develop are working – whether the vaccines cause the body to develop an immune response that fights the germ or the pathogen,” she says. “We are trying to understand which immune response patterns correlate with protection against a particular pathogen.”
“The ultimate goal is to predict whether a vaccine will protect against early development and tailor the immune response to a pathogen and a particular population,” she continues. “An exciting new application is the development of vaccines for pregnant women to protect their newborns from diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus, which makes breathing difficult, and group B streptococci, which cause sepsis in newborns.”
In addition, she says, “I am very excited about our ability to use mRNA technology for vaccines. This is a very flexible platform that has the potential to revolutionize vaccines.”
For Ingrid, the most exciting moment of her career was working on the COVID-19 vaccine – and participating in a critical rollout. “It’s humbling, exhilarating, exhausting. Maybe not in that order,” she says.
“We saw over the past year the profound effects infectious diseases can have on everyday life and how much energy it takes to stay safe,” she continues. “We haven’t seen the effects of our activities as clearly as we did last year. That’s what drives us scientists.”
Therefore, she is confident that science will win – and will make the world a better place by improving human health.
“I hope the silver lining of the pandemic is more young people from different backgrounds choosing to become scientists,” says Ingrid. “The best thing in the world was when my 6-year-old daughter said to me, ‘Mom, I’m so proud of you. You’re helping to beat the virus.'”
That gives her hope.
“If we focus on that, science will empower us to find ways to address health problems,” she says. “There are thousands of dedicated scientists working on vaccines. We are doing this job because we want to make the world a better place. To protect babies and grandparents around the world. To unlock human potential by reducing disease. “
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