A Passion for Service Part III: The Vaccine

Written by: IMC Department

In case you missed it, read Part I and Part II here: A Passion for Service Part I, Part II

In light of the confirmation of new and improved vaccinations, we got back in touch with Ava Abtahi—who has been volunteering her time and services to the effort of COVID-19 testing, and now, to the vaccination process. Previously, Ava shared her experience volunteering at COVID-19 testing sites throughout Montgomery County for up to 12+ hour shifts, testing individuals, and receiving around 15,000 to 20,000 calls per day for scheduling appointments. It has been a very stressful and rewarding struggle for her. Ava continues to liken her drive for service to her pursuing a cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon’s profession and the values she learned from Washington Adventist University and its Honors College—serving people through the ‘Gateway to Service.’ 


Transferring from administering tests to giving vaccines was a distinct but welcome change for Ava. “I personally like it better; there is a better atmosphere…,” she said. “A clear difference between the two sites is during testing, and you come in without knowing if you are affected or not. But for the vaccine, you go into the facility with a lot of hope and happiness inside, that we are slowly reaching the end….” It may take a few more months or up to several years, with hundreds of cases cropping up every week, but for now, Ava is determined to continue working to help make our community safer and more prepared. 


As a volunteer and a first responder, Ava was among those on the list when the vaccine was released late last year. Despite certain myths that had been going around at the time, Ava affirms that the experience wasn’t as bad as she was expecting. The process was mostly painless, only ending up with a mild headache, fever, and chills after her second injection that disappeared the very next day. “Again, that is normal, and it’s a good sign because it says that your body is working and making sure that you are building immunity toward the strain.” 


At the clinic itself, all workers work long hours both in the foreground and background to ensure that each individual has a good and smooth experience. In line with the process at Ava’s clinic, once you enter the facility and get a temperature check, the usual next step is to register or check-in, showing your appointment records and approval letter to receive the vaccine. Then, you join the flow until it’s your turn to get rechecked, receive your vaccine shot and certification before you go off to the observation room. After about 15 minutes spent in the observation room to ensure there are no significant side effects, the process is effectively over. 


Speaking on the COVID-19 vaccine, Ava has been working closely on the Moderna vaccine, specifically. So far, out of the 1,500 receivers her clinic has received every day since December 21, 2020, they have not shown any significant reactions. According to Ava, here are some facts about the COVID-19 vaccines: 


  1. The only reactions reported so far and are common are headaches, slight fever, chills, pain, and slight redness at the injection site, which all are good signs, meaning that you are becoming immune. For the Moderna vaccine, you have to be at least 18 years old to receive it, while the Pfizer vaccine is at least 16 years old.
  2.  That means they use lipid nanoparticles, or fat bubbles, to deliver bits of genetic material that encode instructions for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which the new coronavirus uses to enter human cells. When injected into a muscle, the cells produce the protein, triggering an immune response. The mRNA degrades quickly in the body and does not alter human genes.
  3. The Moderna mRNA vaccines and the technology used for them are approaches that can be used to cure cancer. And this technique was only developed for cancer vaccines. These experimental cancer vaccines use mRNA to stimulate cells to produce specific tumor-associated proteins, triggering an immune response against cancer.
  4. Besides cancer and COVID-19, mRNA technology could also be used to prevent the seasonal flu and treat heart failure, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, cytomegalovirus, and HIV, among other diseases. Its medical possibilities, in short, are many.


However, once someone has been fully vaccinated, it is still essential that they take necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. “There is no definite answer…as all of the COVID-19 vaccines have only been authorized for emergency use, none of them are approved yet,” Ava said. “With that said, after two weeks from your second dose, you gain 95% immunity depending on the vaccine. For Moderna, you also have two years of protection with it, plus it’s good for the new variants.” So, there is still a 5% chance that you can catch the virus and get sick or be asymptomatic and pass it to someone else without being aware of it. If someone decides not to take the vaccine, they need to be mindful of the considerable risk and be prepared and careful not to get the virus. It may soon become the reality that getting the vaccine becomes a requirement, especially for schools and airports. In the meantime, make sure to do plenty of research about your available options to be prepared for the eventuality. 


Please visit the Montgomery County website and the Maryland website for COVID-19 and vaccine updates. For more vaccine information, see the CDC or FDA website

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