PAs Who Got COVID-19 Vaccine Implore Others to Stand with Healthcare Community

Four PAs Share Frontline Experiences

January 7, 2021

Ngan Lam, MPAS, MPH, PA-C; Mor Levy, PA-C; Melissa Colon-Roman, PA-C; Cassidy Ruocco, PA-C
L – R: Ngan Lam, MPAS, MPH, PA-C; Mor Levy, PA-C; Melissa Colon-Roman, PA-C; Cassidy Ruocco, PA-C.

Four PAs on the front lines of the pandemic share their reasons for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Ngan Lam, PA-C, who practices in infectious disease, implores us all to stand with the healthcare community. Mor Levy, PA-C, in emergency medicine, got the vaccine because she’s “afraid of losing more of [her] humanity to this virus.” Melissa Colon-Roman, PA-C, who practices in critical care, says she has “witnessed an unimaginable amount of loss this year.” And Cassidy Ruocco, PA-C, in pulmonology and critical care, recounts hard phone calls to family members and says the vaccine is a big step in ending the pandemic.

Ngan Lam, MPAS, MPH, PA-C, works in infectious disease in Orlando, Florida. 

Why did you personally get the COVID-19 vaccine?
I personally received the COVID-19 vaccine to play my part to protect my family, friends, patients, and community.  As a public health advocate, I understand the importance of reaching herd immunity to overcome this pandemic.

However, I know it doesn’t stop with getting the vaccine. Now is also the time to start debunking COVID-19 vaccine myths. The amount of misinformation out in the community spreads like wildfire. I lead by example. I’m here to show my family, friends, and patients that I stand with science and that it’s critical we all do our part to stop this pandemic!

What would you say to patients who have vaccine hesitancy? Your family and friends?
It’s okay to have concerns about a new vaccine and how this may affect you. For this reason, it is important to research and ask for advice from medical providers – not Dr. Google or the latest social media post.

It’s important to have faith in the science and medical community. And more importantly, know that the side effects will be much more tolerable than the consequences of getting infected with COVID-19.

More than ever, we need our community to stand with us. My healthcare colleagues and I are tired. We want nothing more than to move past this pandemic. We need YOU to play your part and get vaccinated.

Tell us a little bit about your work experiences during COVID-19.
When the pandemic first started, I was working in ENT. Following other PAs who went to work on the front lines, I was able to adapt and take on a new role as an infectious disease PA.

Seeing and treating COVID-19 patients these past few months, I have seen the consequences of the disease and its devastating impact on patients’ families, and the horrific marks it has left on our communities. As a former epidemiologist chasing local outbreaks (I worked the tail end of Ebola), this is nothing like I ever could’ve imagined. But we are here, we’re still fighting. And we’re hoping for a better tomorrow.

Mor Levy, PA-C, works in emergency medicine at Staten Island University Hospital and Northwell Health in New York.

Why did you personally get the COVID-19 vaccine?
If the deaths and long-term physical effects of COVID on our communities weren’t enough, I am tired of how I feel during this pandemic: distanced from my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my patients. I’m horrified at the implications of people continuing to separate and be alone. I feel that COVID-19 has muddied what it means to be human: to love, to hug, to hold, to share joy and sorrow and everything in between.

This virus has taken much of our humanity. We have to socially distance, deliver babies with minimal to no support, and allow our loved ones to die alone. I have to hear my 3-year-old say, for the hundredth time, “when the virus is over, can we….” I have to be understanding when my husband asks me if I was “just coughing.” At work, we have to code people wearing heavy, burdensome PPE, intubate patients wondering if the seal is tight on our N95s, think “please let that ultrasound show some tangible heart contractility during the pulse check.” We have to talk to people’s families and tell them we are sorry but their family member didn’t make it. This, at times, feels like the only evidence of my humanity in months—comforting a spouse, father, or mother after I’ve told them their wife, daughter, son is now dead.

I got the vaccine because I’m afraid of losing more of my humanity to this virus.

What would you say to patients who have vaccine hesitancy? Your family and friends?
Please do real research and vaccinate if you’re able. Talk to someone. You are not alone in having concerns over the idea of a new vaccine: there is no shame in not knowing what to do. But your responsibility is to do the research and make an educated decision about vaccination.

Tell us a little bit about your work experiences during COVID-19.
I am a PA in emergency medicine and I see any and all types of patients who come into the hospital for care. Recently, in addition to my ED shifts, I have also been helping out on our inpatient COVID-19 units. We see the sickest of the sick; my role is managing these patients in conjunction with my collaborating physicians. We also see patients who are not as sick who may require a splint or laceration repair. I was pregnant at the start of the pandemic and delivered my second child at the end of April. COVID-19 means I have a new decontamination process prior to entering my home or saying hello to my toddler and baby. COVID-19 has necessitated that we wear heavy burdensome PPE for all patient encounters and that we speak to family members on the phone as they can only enter the emergency department for specific reasons. COVID-19 has necessitated that our patients, who are already there on their worst days, cannot even see our faces.

Melissa Colon-Roman, PA-C, works in critical care for Geisinger Health System in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Why did you personally get the COVID-19 vaccine?
As a PA in critical care, I’ve witnessed an unimaginable amount of loss this year. I’ve spent countless hours treating and comforting critically ill COVID-19 patients – many of whom have lost their battle – and providing support to family members who have been unable to be with their loved ones.

I, and the amazing nurses, techs, physicians, respiratory therapists, radiology techs, and more, have prided ourselves in what we do for these patients. But doing our jobs isn’t always enough. If we can each take a step that will help move humanity forward in this – we should do it.

I took the vaccine for my patients, my coworkers, my loved ones, for science.

What would you say to patients who have vaccine hesitancy? Your family and friends?
It would be unnatural to not have some level of questioning when it comes to this vaccine. Yes, it’s new, and yes, it was developed quickly, but the amount of funding put towards this vaccine for a disease that has caused a global pandemic is astounding. The way it works is different than others – it’s been much quicker to develop vaccines because you don’t have to “grow” the virus. It’s effective, it’s safe, it’s worth it, and it will hopefully allow us to return to a normal state of living in the near future. The scientific community trusts it. Patients put their lives in our hands every day – we ask you to trust us again.

Tell us a little bit about your work experiences during COVID-19.
My main reasoning for getting the vaccine is because of the amount of loss I’ve witnessed during this pandemic working in the ICU. It’s a disease process that none of us have seen before. We ran out of ICU beds for weeks at a time during the peaks of this pandemic; our beds at several points were almost entirely COVID-19 patients on life support. Thanks to our leadership, we’ve adapted and always prioritized patient care, but it was the furthest thing from easy. Although our job in the ICU has been more difficult during the pandemic, I always tell myself that this is the career I chose and I love. It’s not always going to be straight forward, but it’s important to recognize that another difficult day at work for me may very well be the worst day of a patient’s and their loved ones’ life. It helps ground me and I will continue to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients as long as I have the ability to do so.

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Cassidy Ruocco, PA-C, is a member of the Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine Team at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Why did you personally get the COVID-19 vaccine?
After nine months of seeing firsthand the heart break this virus can cause, I got this vaccine for my family, my community, my patients, and my coworkers.

What would you say to patients who have vaccine hesitancy? Your family and friends?
I would urge anyone with hesitancy to do the research (through reliable sources) and to trust science. I have seen an overwhelming number of fellow healthcare professionals sharing their vaccine stories and I hope that we as a healthcare community can set the example to all.

Tell us a little bit about your work experiences during COVID-19.
Working in an ICU, I have been on the front lines of this pandemic since March. The thousands of lives that have been lost to this virus may be just startling numbers to some, but to me they are someone’s child, parent, best friend, loved one. I have had to tell a mother her son was not going to make it over the telephone, on more than one occasion. I have seen the physical and emotional exhaustion of my fellow healthcare providers on a daily basis. This vaccine is a big step in ending the pandemic.

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