Executive Director of the Washington Health System Foundation, Sara Schumacher, shares her personal experience with receiving the COVID vaccine, candid thoughts on vaccinating our kids, and predictions for our return to “normalcy.”
- “The vaccine has not been approved yet for young children because they haven’t done enough studies and they haven’t done enough research on it. But regardless of what age they determine it will be, if it will be okay to give children a vaccination, my advice to everyone is to talk with your pediatrician, talk to the folks that are the researchers and make sure that you’re making an informed decision.” – Sara Schumacher
- “It’s a struggle and it’s frustrating to be quite honest, because we know we have the need and we know we have the resources, but we don’t actually have the product.” – Sara Schumacher
- “We don’t know, week to week, how many vaccines we’re going to receive.” – Sara Schumacher
- “If it comes out that the trials are done and the research is done and our physician feels that it is something he recommends to have done, then we definitely would do that for the girls.” – Sara Schumacher
- “One of the things that I think has been tough for me through all of this is that I feel like everyone is judging everyone … Everyone has a different situation and we just have to be respectful of the decisions that are made. And we don’t have to agree with them just like anything else in life, but we should respect other people and let the cards fall where they fall.” – Sara Schumacher
- 1:31 – Getting the Covid vaccine
- 4:11 – Should kids get the Covid vaccine?
- 7:36 – Where can you keep up with the ever changing information?
- 9:07 – Moving from one injection instead of two
- 10:31 – How each health system determines which vaccine to use
- 11:07 – The logistics of getting the vaccine out
- 16:01 – Will the Covid vaccine become a regular part of kids’ vaccinations in the future?
- 19:19 – Practicing what you preach
[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
[00:00:14] Emily Melious: Hey welcome back everyone. I am glad you’re here for another episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. We are joined by Sara Schumacher today. She’s the Executive Director of the Washington Health System Foundation here in Southwestern, Pennsylvania. She’s been married to her husband, Billy, for 18 years, and she’s also the mom to Taylor who’s 13, and Quinn, who is 10. Sara, thank you so much for coming on.
[00:00:44] Sara Schumacher: Thank you, Emily, for having me. As I told you, this is my first podcast. So I’m excited and honored that you asked me to be a part of your great group.
[00:00:53] Emily Melious: I know. Well, I’m sure it will be the first of many. After this, everybody’s going to want Sara on their show. So we probably started something here. I want to talk to you about the side of your life and work that is in the medical system. I know things have just been a blur, I’m sure for you with COVID and everything that’s happening around that.
[00:01:20] We’ve talked a lot about things are just changing hour by hour, minute by minute. And because you work in the health system, you have taken both doses of the COVID vaccine. And I’m sure so many of us are really curious to know what that experience is like, and what was it like for you?
[00:01:39] Sara Schumacher: Sure. So I actually decided whenever the opportunity arose, because I work for the health system, that I would take that and seize that opportunity to receive the vaccine. So, when I did that several weeks ago, I also made the decision that I was going to put some live videos out on Facebook so that people could follow me through my experience. And perhaps if I had any side effects, knowing that there’s people out there who are apprehensive, and wanted to share my experience. So I did receive both vaccines and it’s been a couple of weeks now, so I am at the point where they feel that I have my immunities now. The initial injection was actually better than having the flu shot.
[00:02:21] Typically I’m the person who says it hurts and burns, and so I felt that the actual needle was not as painful, but I did have a sore arm for a couple of days, which is very normal for me in other vaccinations. The second shot was very similar. By the third day, I did start to have just minor aches and I felt cold. And so I decided to take a couple of ibuprofen and by the evening I was fine, woke up the next morning and I was fine. And that’s the only pain reliever that I took over those five or so days. I wanted to feel the effects of it and did not want to take anything prior to receiving the vaccine so that I would know how that I feel and then I could share those experiences with others. I do know that people have had some other side effects that were very minor, very low grade fever, but I was fortunate not to have that. But I do believe that a little bit of that achiness was a result of it. The other thing I had, and maybe this group of people can resonate with it, but I had a feeling inside of me where it was almost like coming from my insides up that was hot. And when I was pregnant, I had similar feelings at times, where it was almost like a hot flash. And that’s the way that I could describe that. And it happened within two hours of having that second vaccine. And I’ve heard a couple of other people who said the same thing, that they just felt like a warm feeling inside, and then it dissipated. So I consider myself lucky because I didn’t have any more adverse reaction than that.
[00:03:53] Emily Melious: As you mentioned, there are a lot of parents who have apprehension about taking the vaccine for themselves and then as we think about our kids. And you actually shared with me an age cutoff that I didn’t realize. So I’d love to hear about, where are we in terms of thinking about vaccinating kids. But what would you say to the parents who do have concerns about, them or their kids in particular, taking the vaccine?
[00:04:20] Sara Schumacher: So as you said, the vaccine has not been approved yet for young children because they haven’t done enough studies and they haven’t done enough research on it. But regardless of what age they determined, it will be, if it will be okay give children a vaccination, my advice to everyone is to talk with your pediatrician, talk to the folks that are researchers and make sure that you’re making an informed decision. Because I’ve talked to a lot of people who have a lot of opinions as we all do, but I’m not sure how much of it is really factual based on a physician or scientist’s research. And so, I have a lot of faith in the leadership at the Washington Health System, our physicians, our medical staff, and our administration.
[00:05:07] And so I follow their lead and believe in the advice that they’re giving, because I know that they’ve done their trusted research and are getting the right answers. So for any of this, whether you’re young or old, particularly young, because we don’t know as much about it yet for under 16 years of age, but I would say make sure that you’re looking in a source that’s not just from a friend or a family member, but it’s something that you have reached out to a professional when you make an informed decision, before you decide yes or no, if you are on the fence about it.
[00:05:40] Emily Melious: And that’s a fair point. Information is changing daily. We really need to go to folks who both have the expertise, but also a familiarity with our family and our kids. And they’re going to be the best resource for us and making what is going to be a difficult decision. Remind me what the age is. Is it 13 or 16, where it’s okay to take the vaccine and then below that age, it’s not approved yet. What is that marker?
[00:06:08] Sara Schumacher: So it’s actually different for each of the companies that are providing the vaccine. So at Washington Health System, we are only providing the Pfizer vaccine and that is for 16 and above. And Moderna I believe, which we are not providing, but other health systems are, I’m not sure that they even have an age group yet. So I can only speak to Pfizer, but I know that there is something for Moderna as well, but I believe it’s not under 18. So in that like 16 to 18 ranges where they have it approved, anything below that I don’t think that they have any research on, or haven’t done any trials on younger kids below 16.
[00:06:53] Emily Melious: So this seems like it could very easily become confusing.
[00:06:57] Sara Schumacher: Yes, I was just gonna say that. Make sure you know what company you’re receiving it from, because there are additional companies like Johnson and Johnson and other pharmaceuticals who, of course are outworking to create the vaccine as well. And they’re getting close to having FDA approval, and each one of the companies has different ways to chill the vaccine. And how many shots you get, whether that’s one or two, and what age they start administering the vaccine.
[00:07:26] Emily Melious: We have listeners from all over the United States, and all across the world, and I’m sure there’s going to be different rules depending on where you’re located. Is there some kind of central resource the parents can go to, or even nationally to just keep track of this stuff? Cause it seems like even, again from day to day, what may have not been approved yesterday might be approved today. I know they’re thinking about going from two shots to one shot. How do we keep up with all of this? We don’t have the benefit of it being our day job, like it is for you.
[00:07:59] Sara Schumacher: Exactly. And even for us, it changes on a regular basis. So we do send everyone to the CDCs website. And honestly, a governmental website is probably the best because, although there’s a lot of information and it can be overwhelming, it certainly is a place to start. And then I would encourage at your local health system.
[00:08:19] So I know from our perspective, we’re updating our website almost daily and have a designated page on our website that has nothing but COVID information. And I’m sure that each one of your local hospitals, or large hospitals, I’m sure many of you live in large cities, have a resource on their website that has specific information to the company that they’re receiving the vaccine from. And then even as far as where do you receive a vaccine, and how do you register for it, and that type of information. So of course the CDC is always a great place to start, but if you want to know your local information, going to your local hospital or health system is also a great resource.
[00:09:00] Emily Melious: That is so helpful, cause it will quickly make your head spin otherwise.
[00:09:05] Sara Schumacher: Yes it will. Yes, it will, Emily.
[00:09:07] Emily Melious: And what do you think about the talk about them moving to one vaccine instead of two? I don’t know if that’s a particular company or if that’s all of the companies that are going to move to that. That seems like just logistically, it’s a better approach, but what are your thoughts from an insider perspective on that?
[00:09:25] Sara Schumacher: The only thing that I really know about it is that I don’t believe that the companies who are currently offering two injections will go to one. I believe that the formula that they have and that they have researched and put together is, at least from what I’ve read and know, is going to stay the way it is.
[00:09:41] The single injection is something that’s coming out. There’s two companies that I’ve read of that are working on it right now, and I believe one of them is Johnson and Johnson. And so I can’t tell you more than that, but it would be more favorable if we could get it in one shot, because you think of the logistics of having to schedule. And you think of all of us working, and moms, and caregivers and trying to get elderly folks to show up, not just one time but two times. And you think about people who miss doctor’s appointments. You figure there’s going to be some variation of no-show at these appointments for a myriad of reasons. Maybe it’s transportation issues, or maybe it’s technology issues where they don’t receive the confirmation of their appointment. So there’s definitely going to be a variable, and we’re already seeing that of course now, as we begin to vaccinate our communities,
[00:10:31] Emily Melious: How does each health system determine which vaccine to use?
[00:10:36] Sara Schumacher: So I believe it’s that you go to the state and you ask them for the vaccine, and you basically order it from the very beginning and they provide you with the supply. And then once you receive the first dose that’s a certain brand or make, you can’t receive it from another company. If you receive the first vaccine that’s Pfizer, it has to be from Pfizer. You can’t then go get the Moderna for your second vaccine. That’s why it’s important that you get it from the same company that you received the first.
[00:11:07] Emily Melious: Sara, I was just thinking, there’s so many logistics behind getting this vaccine out. What does it look like on the back end from your perspective? I mean, there’s the frontline workers, but there’s so many other people behind the scenes also contributing to making this work, right?
[00:11:24] Sara Schumacher: Absolutely. And so I definitely don’t want to take anything away from frontline workers because they obviously are with the patients and they’re taking care of them every day, and putting themselves at risk, but there also is a subset of other folks like myself. And again, I’m not a hero, but there are people who are working behind the scenes to help logistically, as you said, and strategically put together the process for the vaccination clinics that are rolling out.
[00:11:52] And I’m sure no matter what state you live in, this is something that you’re dealing with. And so from our perspective, we’re setting up three clinics. One we have right now, but two additional that will come out here in about a week. And, we could set up as many clinics as we want, but if we can’t receive the vaccine from the pharmaceutical companies, it won’t matter. So it comes down to a supply and demand problem. We could absolutely, and are prepared to give more vaccinations than what we will have the actual supply to give out to our community. And so it’s a struggle and it’s frustrating to be quite honest, because we know we have the need and we know we have the resources, but we don’t actually have the product.
[00:12:33] Emily Melious: I didn’t realize that’s where the bottle-necking was happening right now. So it’s not necessarily the distribution piece, it’s still the production and supply piece?
[00:12:45] Sara Schumacher: It is from our perspective, at least. And I would think other health systems, and well I know the ones around here are definitely dealing with it. It’s really the distribution of the vaccine, which is why the other companies that I was talking about earlier, were trying to get FDA approval so that they could get them pushed through so that it would help with the supply.
[00:13:06] And I think that will happen, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next few months. And it’s still some time away, so it’s a struggle every day and that’s why managing the project has been a struggle. We don’t know, week to week, how many vaccines we’re going to receive. So if you have 10,000 people registered and willing to get the vaccine, but you only have 3000 doses, the numbers don’t work out there.
[00:13:30] Emily Melious: That has to just be frustrating as you talked about, because people are ready to go, they’re ready to get it. And you don’t even know until that week how much you’re getting, and just the administration of that and moving people around and scheduling seems incredible. I would think this would be a great task for the national guard. Is that something that is down the line?
[00:13:57] Sara Schumacher: I’ve read recently that they are going to call up the national guard to get involved. And I hope that’s a great thing, but that would mean that they would have to have enough vaccines to administer to them. So I hope that that’s a positive thing and means that we’re going to be able to spread the vaccine to more folks. And if you believe in the vaccine, then you believe in herd immunity. And if we can get to herd immunity sooner, then obviously we can try to find some sense of normalcy back in our country, but unfortunately I do believe we’re going to be wearing masks through this calendar year.
[00:14:32] And from what I read some of the things that I’ve seen, we may be wearing masks into our future and maybe during flu season or other times of the year where there’s infectious diseases like the flu or, cold season where maybe we would temporarily use them. Here again, I’m not a physician, I’m not a researcher or a pharmacist. This is just my opinion, that from what I’ve read and seen that, it may be something that’s a part of our world, hopefully not a 24/7 part of our world. But I think it’s changed everything for us. Some of it to the good, to be honest with you, but it forced us to look at the virtual world and be able to adapt and use it to our benefit a lot sooner, I think, than what we would have. But it certainly has come with obstacles that I think won’t leave us, if ever.
[00:15:19] Emily Melious: When do you think the COVID vaccine will be produced enough that we won’t have the supply and demand issues?
[00:15:27] Sara Schumacher: Gosh, I don’t know. I’ve heard projections that we will be able to vaccinate as many people who qualify and want it by this Fall, but you just don’t know. And I think each county and each region is going to get there at a different time, because everyone’s receiving a different distribution. And based off the population that you have in the town, the city, or the state that you live in, will sort of predict when that area of our country will get to that point. So gosh, I wish I had even some better thoughts on that, Emily.
[00:16:01] Emily Melious: Do you see this as, COVID vaccine just being down the road part of the boosters that all of our kids get? It just becomes the norm like all the other things that they get vaccinated for these days?
[00:16:11] Sara Schumacher: So our CEO has been asked that question, and I believe the way that he’s answered is on the research that he has that it’s really unsure right now. They’re not sure how long the vaccine will last in your system. And, some people project that it could be something that you get maybe every year with the flu shot or maybe every other year. And they’re doing more research, and I know they have some folks who are participating in, they’re following them to see, okay, now you’ve had the vaccine, and they’re in the trials. And so I think some of it will come out of that, but the vaccine hasn’t been around, I don’t think long enough for them to know.
[00:16:49] Would it shock me? No, it would not shock me if every year we went in for a flu shot, or maybe they’re able to combine the flu shot and the COVID vaccine together. But yeah, nothing would shock me right now, Emily, if that’s the way that it ended up. Or maybe every couple of years, you have to have sort of a booster shot where it’s just to keep the immunities up in your body.
[00:17:12] Emily Melious: You mentioned that kids aren’t eligible to get it yet because they haven’t done enough research. Are you aware of those trials going on right now with kids?
[00:17:22] Sara Schumacher: I am actually not. I’m not sure one way or the other, if they’ve taken any kind of steps to do that. I think that they’ve been so focused on trying to get the sort of adult and elderly population, but I don’t want to speculate on that cause I haven’t seen even any reading in my healthcare world on that yet.
[00:17:43] Emily Melious: I know there’s a lot of conversation and not a lot of agreement on that right now. So it’ll be interesting to see how that moves forward, definitely.
[00:17:51] Sara Schumacher: I would agree. And I think it’s going to be interesting moving forward to see if some of the things that have speculation even about, whether you can get on an airplane or not. I’ve heard things, I don’t have any of it confirmed, but will you have to prove that you’ve had a vaccine? And I don’t know that, but I know I’ve heard it enough to know that it could be possible.
[00:18:09] Emily Melious: If the studies on kids are done for those early teens or adolescent years, and they say that it’s safe for kids, will you have any qualms with having Taylor and Quinn take the vaccine?
[00:18:24] Sara Schumacher: So interestingly, I’ve said to people I wouldn’t give it to them now, because I don’t know enough about it. And our pediatrician, I believe in his research, and so as I said to someone recently, if Dr. Smith recommends it, and it’s something that he feels confident in and our health system is confident in, then yes, I would give it to them. But I also have given them all of the other vaccines that were, I’ll call it recommended, at each stages of their lives.
[00:18:55] And I also vaccinate them every year for the flu. So I know that is a little bit controversial as folks have their own opinion. And I don’t intend to sway anyone, but that’s just our practice and has been. So yes, if it comes out and the trials are done and the research is done and our physician feels that it is something he recommends to have done, then we definitely would do that for the girls.
[00:19:19] Emily Melious: I appreciate your honesty on that. And you practice what you preach. You know, trust the doctors, trust the experts, and you have a cautious optimism, which I think many of us share. We really want to get through this and we want to do the right thing, but it’s all new. So we’ve got to get comfortable with it, and we need to do the research for ourselves and get to a place where we feel good about the decision we’re making for our families.
[00:19:41] Sara Schumacher: Exactly. Exactly, and they’re all individual and it’s hard to judge. And that’s one of the things that I think has sort of been tough for me through all of this is that, I feel like everyone is judging everyone. And whether that’s on social media or you see them out at a place and you think, oh, well, they didn’t do this, but they’re going to go to this person’s. It’s probably taught me that maybe I need to pull back some of my criticism and judgment too, because you just don’t know. Everyone has a different situation and we just have to be respectful of the decisions that are made. And we don’t have to agree with them, just like anything else in life, but we should respect other people and let the cards fall where they fall.
[00:20:20] Emily Melious: Excellent advice. Thank you for these reminders. Sara, thank you again for just coming on and being so honest with us about your journey, and thanks for all the good work you’re doing to get us back into our schools and workplaces and back to normal, whatever that means these days with your work in Washington Health System. We really appreciate you. Thanks for coming on.
[00:20:41] Sara Schumacher: Thank you so much Emily and thank you to all of the moms who are doing an amazing job with your kids and troubleshooting and perhaps taking care of parents or elderly family members. And also, thank you to the healthcare workers and first responders and anyone else who may be helping through the journey that we’re going through in this very unprecedented and, I’ll just call it crazy time in our lives.
[00:21:02] Emily Melious: Yeah, crazy is a perfect word for it. Thanks again.
[00:21:06] Sara Schumacher: Thanks, Emily.
[00:21:07] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.