ÖOn a cloudy day in late April in Newark, New Jersey, after more than a year of suffering from a pandemic, around 2,000 people stood on a public college campus to begin the healing. At a hangar-style tennis facility at the New Jersey Institute of Technology that had been converted into a mass vaccination site, they were confronted with one of the most remarkable biomedical achievements in history: a safe and highly effective COVID vaccine that was developed and tested on a 10th floor -month sprint in 2020, over 300,000 Americans and nearly two million people worldwide died of COVID over the same time period as scientists ran to develop this virus blocker.
Although the two-dose vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech and administered in Newark – along with a similar vaccine from biotech company Moderna – was quickly configured for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, both are the careful culmination of decades of research in the as synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA). The gunfire gave the world the first real sign that humanity could break free from the pandemic.
Research on vaccines made from mRNA conducted at the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and several academic laboratories revealed a way to use this compound to induce the body’s cells to make a viral protein that elicits a strong immune response . Two different clinical trials involving more than 70,000 people were reviewed by vaccine and safety experts from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as external advisory bodies. The tests showed the recordings were healthy and extremely effective, and led to the vaccine being approved.
But the shots didn’t hit everyone equally. In the US, many people of color face social and material barriers, including lack of transportation to clinics and computer access to make appointments and no paid time off, and the barriers have resulted in white people receiving disproportionate amounts of vaccine doses. The Newark site was created to correct this problem. It is a joint state and federal effort administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense. The location is close to train stations and bus stops. People who show up without an appointment will be booked for an upcoming appointment or even housed that day if supplies allow. Messages and instructions are available to visitors who are more comfortable in any of 50+ languages. Some staff are fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and more. A video is available for people communicating in American Sign Language. On April 30, a month after it opened, the site vaccinated its 150,000th person.
The people who arrived at the facility moved between rows of folding tables. After registering at one of 36 admission wards with Plexiglas barriers between patients and seated workers, the patients walked down an improvised corridor to one of 50 vaccination stations that were tired by members of the military. High partitions made of steel blue fabric kept a sense of privacy. A military doctor explained the two-dose regimen for the vaccine and the protection it provides, then asked if patients had any concerns.
These websites cannot undo the great missteps of the first year of the pandemic or address the web of health disadvantages created by structural inequalities. And what has been done in the rich US is still out of reach for much of the planet. large areas continue to suffer. But these photos, taken on April 20, show encounters between people and the vaccines that can save them after a tragic year. They reveal the human side of the progress that is possible when societies use science – and compassion – to tackle the greatest problems.
Carmita Andrade, 51 (center) thought she might die when she had COVID in April last year. She could hardly breathe. Her trauma, which included a week of hospitalization, helped inspire her son Christopher and daughter Nicole to join her in vaccination this spring. “I’m a survivor here,” she says. “My biggest worry was going to the hospital because you didn’t know if you would come back. Many people who have died due to COVID have not been able to say goodbye to their families. But I have been very blessed to be with my family again. “
Alex Appiah Frimpong, 50, a former life insurance agent who is now studying for an MBA, opted for vaccination after his Pentecostal pastor advised his congregation to get vaccinated. “There are rumors that people are dying from the shot, and I don’t really believe it,” says Frimpong. “I didn’t feel anything with the first shot. And that’s the second shot. I am fine now. So i’m good “
Layla Sayed, 17, an aspiring lawyer who works at a Thai ice cream parlor, says she has been partially vaccinated to protect her mother, who she lives with. The vaccine also served as a reminder of the risks their family members living in Egypt were exposed to. “They don’t have the precautions that we have,” she says. “You don’t have any vaccinations. You don’t have any tests. Some of them don’t even have masks or they don’t have the money to get one. Having the privilege of being able to get something like this was really important to me. “
Mary Breanna Hudon, 30, a military medic and sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, injects people with vaccines. She usually fires more than 200 shots a day and works two or three days in a row, sometimes 11-hour shifts. She recalls the vaccination of a 9/11 survivor in the sixties who mentioned his toxic exposures at the World Trade Center site resulted in kidney cancer. “So I thanked him because they were there for us at the time,” she says. “I let him know, ‘Thank you. We appreciate you. It’s time for us to have your back. ‘”
Cecilia Sessions, 46, the site’s doctor and chief medical officer and Colonel in the US Air Force, asked to be posted to Newark. She really wanted to help, also because New Jersey had one of the highest COVID death rates among the US states. “Many of the people who walk in speak to us about how they were personally affected and what people they lost during the pandemic. So there is definitely a need. We had a deaf patient a few days ago and I used my phone to ask for a sign language interpreter. And when the patient finished when he got his vaccine, he just exclaimed, “Thank you, God. Thank you all. ‘He was so overwhelmed with emotion. He cried.”
Health professionals prepare vaccines in advance and often prepare multiple patients at the same time. Each assembly typically contains an alcohol swab, pre-filled syringe, and tape. From a public perspective, medical technicians are thawing trays of frozen vaccine bottles to start the process of reconstituting up to 6,000 vaccine doses per day. Six doses are drawn into syringes from each vial. A US Public Health Service pharmacist or Veterans Administration nurse will review the quality of each step in the process, including a final review of each loaded syringe.
Hodan Bulhan, 39, who works as a paralegal in a law firm, has several family members and friends who have developed severe COVID. You have recovered, she says, but “that [vaccination] would have been helpful if it had been available at this point. “The pandemic was a frightening experience for her. “Anything we can do to keep us from getting sick or hospitalized is important. I believe in vaccinations. I’m an 80s kid, got vaccinated and fine. I think it will work. “
Kajal Negandhi, 39, who works in patient safety for a pharmaceutical company, says she lost a dear friend in India to the pandemic last October. After Negandhi received her second dose in Newark, she thought of her friend, as well as her child and her community: “I have a small one at home. I want their teachers to be vaccinated. So why not us? Save them, save the children, save everyone around you. “
Youlanda Lee-Clendenen, 56, says she was vaccinated because she knows that people her age and those like her with underlying diseases are at higher risk for severe COVID. She wants to spend time with her six grandchildren and travel. She also felt an obligation to get vaccinated to reduce the spread of the virus and a responsibility to provide reluctant relatives in St. Vincent, Caribbean, with accurate information about the vaccine. “They are ignorant not to take the vaccine,” she says. “But I tell them it’s your life. If you want to move on and put your life in danger, it’s up to you. But I’ll protect myself. “