Frontline worker gets second vaccine dose
Shaiyaia Fowler, a medical assistant at Sage Memorial Hospital, said she took the trial vaccine, Pfizer BioNTech, to protect her number one priority – her children. Remembering the last time she took a test to find out if she was positive or not, she received a second dosage Tuesday of the vaccine in Ganado.
A badge with the words “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands” seemed a reminder in case her fear of getting sick, or worse, getting someone else sick, crept into her mind.
“It is stuck in the back of your mind if you know you have to get tested,” Fowler said. “Like, ‘What if I’m positive? How did I get it? Who was I in contact with? Who were they around?’ How did they get it?’”
Fowler is Tódích’íi’nii, born for Tsé Deeshgiizhnii. Her maternal grandfathers are Tabaahí, and her paternal grandfathers are Kin?ichíi’nii. She said, “It just basically goes back to watching your surroundings because it’s always pretty scary.”
Fowler and 164 other frontline workers at Sage Memorial Hospital who work with COVID-19 patients took the first dose of the vaccine on Dec. 15.
The vaccination was part of a larger effort to protect health care workers. Originally, 3,900 doses of the vaccine were distributed but only 3,000 were given to Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Public Law 93-638 facilities.
On Dec. 22, 7,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine were distributed across the reservation. Since Dec. 5, more than 5,661 Navajo people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to daily updates from the Navajo Nation Department of Health, and 156 Diné died.
Overall, the total number of COVID-19 cases, as of Tuesday evening, was 23,978 with 837 deaths.
Fowler said a colleague tested positive, which is why she was tested. Her result came back negative but the wait for the result was excruciating, she said. “I don’t like to wait, she said.
“I’d rather know my results right then and there. We all know that’s not possible.”
Fowler said so far she has taken the test three times. With her COVID-19 vaccination now complete, she hopes she will be protected from the virus. “It’s pretty stressful,” she said, referring to the fear of getting COVID-19. For Fowler, it was not just about protecting herself, her colleagues and the eight communities she serves.
Her most important and most precious reason is her children. “I do my best to keep my children safe,” she said. “They’re my first priority. I want them to be healthy.
“After I come back from work, I walk through the door, my kids have a routine,” she said. “They know not to hug me when I walk through the door. I have to change my clothes, wash my hands, take a shower after I get back from work. That’s when I know I’m safe.”
In addition, her husband cleans their home everyday. “We clean all the surfaces, all the doorknobs, the restroom, basically everything,” Fowler said, while waiting in the surgery room, which was converted into a waiting area where she and other employees were observed for 15 minutes for any side effects. “That’s my daily routine when I get back.”
Fowler said she experienced tiredness, nausea, body aches, a headache, and dizziness after getting the first dose. “Then the day after, when I was at work, tiredness was still there,” she said. “That’s about it.”
Fowler said for those considering getting the vaccine – they should. “Everybody should because on the Navajo Nation we have the highest numbers in Arizona,” she said. “I do strongly advise everybody within the Navajo Nation, especially within the Ganado service area, receive the vaccine.”
According to NNDOH, 73 chapters, including three of the eight – Cornfields, Ganado and Nazlini – that Sage hospital serves, had an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. NNDOH has extended the stay-at-home lockdown unless residents need to resupply food, medication, wood, propane, or if they have an emergency.
The 57-hour weekend lockdown, in addition to the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekly lockdown, is also in effect until Jan. 11.
Facility Superintendent and Incident Commander Christopher West said Fowler was part of the first phase of health care employees to receive the vaccine. He said the hospital would be getting another Moderna vaccine shipment, which would be used to vaccinate more employees, as well as essential workers in local businesses, Emergency Medical Services, Ganado Fire Department, and Annie Wauneka Life Care.
“Currently, we’re setting up appointments for those that are 65 and older, or those that have existing conditions,” West said. “We’re doing all those through an appointment schedule. “As soon as we work with IHS and Navajo Nation and figure out when we can get a bigger amount,” he added, “then we’ll probably set up some kind of mass event. Until then, we’ll run everything by appointments.”
For Fowler, she said she wants to stop feeling pain every time an elder she works with gets COVID-19. “I really do take the elderly generation to the heart,” she said. “I have a grandma who passed away, a grandpa. It’s pretty rough and gets me right in the heart.”
And she has a tip for the younger generation. “I would strongly advise they care more for the elderly because it does affect their health more,” Fowler said. “Do the best they can to keep them safe, issue them masks and try to buy them the things they need such as hand sanitizer, wipes, Lysol spray, any disinfectants, household items needed to clean, and new masks as well. “And treat everyone as if they are symptomatic,” she said.