By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
When Mohammed Akmoosh, a community navigator for Public Health – Seattle & King County, talks to people about COVID and whether or not COVID vaccines are effective he’s speaking from experience. Akmoosh and his family were infected with COVID shortly after school began last fall. Fortunately for Akmoosh, he and his family had been vaccinated and got past the effects of COVID in a short period of time.
“Our kids got COVID from school,” recalls Akmoosh. “The whole family got it from the kids. My wife and I experienced symptoms of fever and fatigue, but there were no severe consequences and after three or four days we all recovered.”
As a community navigator, Akmoosh works directly with people to provide information, resources, and supplies. The work that he and his colleagues do on a daily basis, according to health officials, are key to efforts in Seattle and King County to battle COVID.
However, Akmoosh admittedly is in engaged in an uphill battle against misinformation, skepticism and in some cases denial by people who have experienced COVID themselves.
As health officials work to keep the public informed, many people are struggling with the decision on whether or not to get vaccinated, the differences in how the virus might affect them and making sense of the contradictory information that is being conveyed by many means from one person to another. Particularly, now as infections and hospitalizations are breaking records with, according to the CDC, over 400,000 infections a day.
According to health officials the vaccine’s primary role is to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Research has found that there are different degrees of illness between the unvaccinated and vaccinated. According to the CDC, the risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus. Fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID more than two weeks after they complete their vaccine dose series are called “breakthrough infections.” However, these breakthrough cases typically report a mild illness or no symptoms.
According to Akmoosh, the paradigm in the fight against COVID has shifted from producing a vaccine to a war against misinformation. This ongoing battle has not only impacted the lives of many people in different ways, but it has also muddied the waters, as it relates to COVID, so much that many people don’t know who to trust when it comes to getting information about the virus, vaccines and how to best protect themselves and their families.
“I believe in the community centers, mosques, churches, and community leaders who are working with public health because there is an ongoing effort every day, sometimes on an hourly basis in some cases, to promote the right information,” says Akmoosh.
As public health officials and the community at-large continue to find ways to battle the pandemic, safety net workers like Akmoosh are relying on the expertise of medical experts, community leaders and science to keep the public informed on the differences between being vaccinated and not being vaccinated. Akmoosh notes that it is very important that people get information from trustworthy sources and experts.
“To me the central message is to trust public health authorities and community leaders to provide you with scientific and appropriate information about the vaccine and its power to prevent severe consequences from COVID infections,” says Akmoosh. “And I think one of things I am passionate about working on is to provide access to the right information because sometimes people are not exposed to the right information, or they are exposed to misinformation on social media from people who are promoting negative messages about public health efforts and vaccine effectiveness.”
If you ask if it is worth getting a COVID vaccine or not, you don’t have to look much further than the stories of two friends, Gwen and Tiff. Both contracted COVID at the same time but their experiences where drastically different.
“I believe I got COVID while working,” said Gwen, a Metro bus operator. “I have pre-existing conditions in the form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe and I wasn’t sure how COVID or the vaccine would affect me, but I went ahead and got vaccinated anyway.”
As a result of COVID, Gwen says she experienced coughing, headaches and a fever that lasted about a week. Unfortunately, her friend Tiff, who works as a homecare provider, caught COVID before she was able to get vaccinated, was hospitalized for nine days and was unable to work for two months.
“I was due to get vaccinated on a Monday afternoon and after a physical with my primary physician I learned I had contracted COVID that Monday morning,” recalls Tiff. “I’m a person who does not get sick. I am very healthy, takes vitamins, clean diet, naturally I thought I’ll get the vaccine as a precaution, but I didn’t think I would have to worry about COVID.”
According to Tiff, she had recently returned home from vacation and the day before she was supposed to get her first vaccine dose she had a fever, the shakes and chills.
“I didn’t think it was related to COVID, I thought it was just the flu,” says Tiff. “When I learned that I was positive I took the necessary steps, quarantined, but by the fifth day I was feeling really bad. I couldn’t hold anything down, couldn’t eat, lost my taste, lost my sense of smell and then I noticed I couldn’t drink water.”
“At that point, I had internal bleeding, so my sister took me to the hospital,” she continued. “The doctors at first thought I was going into cardiac arrest and admitted me into the hospital. At that point, I spent five days in ICU in critical condition. Even though my heartbeat was beating very fast it was beating that fast to save my other organs and because my body was strong it helped me overcome the initial scare. By the sixth day, I was off oxygen and breathing on my own. I spent nine days in the hospital.”
With only about 62 percent of the eligible people in the country being vaccinated and 68 percent of those in Washington state vaccinated, health officials continue their attempts to inform the public that the likelihood of being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 is determined by many factors, which include vaccinations, but also include the level of transmission and vaccine coverage in your community, whether you or others wear masks as recommended, the number of people you have close contact with, and a number of other factors.
Sonny Bonoho, who regrets not getting vaccinated prior to contracting COVID, was in the ICU for about a month due to a severe case of COVID.
“Whether I was going to make it out alive was the question during my stay,” says Bonoho. “I was on a ventilator and sedated, had fluid in my legs, and a blood clot in my lungs that has yet to pass. Now out of the hospital, I am unfortunately unable to breath correctly, walk around and do normal activities, self-care related things without support. I will be out of commission for possibly three more months due to COVID. It is a hard time for myself and my family. I’m working hard to recover at home.”
Fast forward to today and Bonoho finds himself eager to receive the vaccine once he is fully recovered.
“At this time, I can’t wait to be vaccinated,” says Bonoho.
The issue of getting vaccinated continues to test the resolve in the American people and there still remains many challenges, but with the advice of city and county officials and healthcare workers, who want to make sure that communities are fully aware of all the resources and information needed for families to make informed decisions about protecting themselves, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel.
“One of the biggest challenges that we see in the community is our struggle with getting the right information to the public and we are fighting that by telling people about personal experiences,” says Akmoosh. “We are here to provide the best level of information — take the vaccine, follow the precautions because COVID is not a joke, the vaccine is not a joke and it’s effective.”