Having seen COVID-19’s health toll firsthand, respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie is grateful to be one of the first in central Alberta to get a vaccine.
“I called all my friends and family. I could not wait to spread the good news, ” said MacKenzie, 35, a respiratory therapist since 2007, who has worked in Red Deer for the past three years.
“Just knowing that I will be protected, not only for my home-care clients and patients, but for my family as well, it’s such a feeling of relief.”
She will get the second of her two shots on Jan. 13.
MacKenzie is embracing the opportunity to give people hope the pandemic nightmare will not last forever, that help is on the way.
“I’m really trying to just let everybody know how positive of an experience this is going to be. Truly, this is the beginning of the end of a very long and difficult time.”
Alberta received a batch of 25,350 Pfizer vaccine doses this week — 1,950 of which are earmarked for Red Deer.
The first phase of vaccine rollout focuses on respiratory therapists, intensive care physicians and staff, and long-term care and designated supportive living facility workers across Alberta.
MacKenzie believes her experiences and those of thousands of other health-care professionals who will receive the vaccine in coming weeks will play a key role in convincing Albertans to get the shot when it is their turn.
“I think it’s really important to be transparent about your experience because there is already so much false information and mistrust out there,” she said.
For those who pass COVID off as just another flu, MacKenzie dispenses a strong dose of reality.
“There are a portion of people who have mild, if any symptoms, and recover quite well with no longstanding deficits.
“But what we’re seeing is the amount of rehab and time people need to recover to the point people don’t need home care anymore is months and months.”
Those downplaying the virus frequently point to a death rate of one per cent as evidence the virus’s danger has been overblown and that if you are not one of the unlucky fatalities you will recover 100 per cent.
Think again. That is not how it works, the Red Deer woman said.
“It’s all that middle ground that people aren’t understanding — the longstanding deficits.
“I have seen long-lasting deficits affecting most organs in the body, including the heart, lungs and sense of taste and smell.”
“I’m not sure of the exact percentage, but young, previously healthy people affected by the virus have longstanding health deficits despite being part of the ‘recovered’ statistics.”
That is where MacKenzie and legions of other home care health professionals play a vital role.
MacKenzie helps with those who need oxygen or other respiratory care. Others provide physiotherapy or occupational therapy.
Besides those who have been discharged from hospital, she and the other health professionals help those whose symptoms were not severe enough to require a hospital stay, but still need care.
She cannot emphasize enough how important it is for everyone to follow the provincial health guidelines and to take a moment to think of others.
“I’m not sure at what point we quit caring for the health and well-being of our neighbours and our communities, but we need to get back to that mindset,” said MacKenzie whose father’s health puts him in the high-risk category.
“If I could do something to perhaps save another person’s life, even though it requires me to alter my behaviour, I will absolutely do that.
“And I really think we need to think about each other and we what we can do help each other, especially during this holiday season.”
MacKenzie understands why some fear a vaccine or want to minimize the health threat facing us.
“This is a very scary time. And when you’re living in fear and you’re looking for comfort my best suggestion would be look to your trusted health professionals for information.
“Don’t look on social media. It’s a pretty nasty world on social media right now, and it’s pretty easy to get swayed with false information.”
That a vaccine is already being distributed — much sooner than some early predictions — should be seen as the success it is, she said.
“It’s actually a tremendous accomplishment that in this day and age science allows for a vaccine to be developed, tested and approved within a year.
“It is something that truly needs to be celebrated.”