Johnny Gattison called it a "no-brainer" as he rolled up his sleeve Wednesday for his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine while finishing his four-hour dialysis treatment.
Gattison, who turned 65 earlier this month, said he took the Moderna vaccine in part because "it's another step to help me be here a little longer."
"I'm grateful that the vaccine was made available to me here, rather than having to go online to secure an appointment, and then wait in line for the shot," Gattison said.
Gattison is among 250 people projected to receive their first dose this week at the 18 outpatient dialysis centers owned by Wake Forest Baptist Health.
There also are centers in Davidson, Davie, Guilford, Iredell, Randolph, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.
Dialysis patients already receive other vaccinations such as flu, pneumonia and hepatitis B, said Dr. Barry Freedman, section chief of nephrology at Wake Forest Baptist Health and chief medical officer of outpatient dialysis.
Adding the COVID-19 vaccine just made sense, he said.
The doses are coming from the weekly allocation Wake Forest Baptist gets from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The dialysis centers began providing the vaccine two weeks ago, said Marshia Coe, a registered nurse and chief operating officer for Health Systems Management, which operates Wake Forest Baptist’s outpatient dialysis clinics.
So far, about 60% of the patients who have been vaccinated though the dialysis centers are Black or Hispanic, which matches the patient demographic, Freedman said.
The dialysis centers have combined 2,100 patients or so patients, of which 975 are older than 65.
Of the patients eligible for vaccination Coe said 45% have agreed to be vaccinated.
Another 200 dialysis patients have gotten the vaccine either through their long-term care facility or from the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.
Half of the dialysis patients in Forsyth are in the Wake Forest Baptist system; the other half are in the Novant Health Inc. system.
"While there has been some hesitancy among some folks, some of which said they would rather have someone else get the vaccine first, by and large we've had more of our patients say 'I want it' once how safe it is was explained to them," Coe said.
According to a Canadian study published Feb. 4 in the medical journal CMAJ, patients undergoing long-term dialysis were more than five times likelier to be infected with COVID-19, and nearly four times more likely to die than the general population.
Researchers from the Ontario Renal Network at Western University in London, Ontario, compared disease characteristics and death rates between long-term dialysis patients with and without COVID-19 infection using linked datasets from March 12 to Aug 20.
Of 12,501 dialysis patients, 187 (1.5%) were diagnosed as having COVID-19; 62.6% of them were hospitalized, 19.8% required intensive care, 15% received mechanical ventilation, and 28.3% died.
By contrast, 27% of uninfected dialysis patients were hospitalized, and 5.8% died.
Freedman said that "we give patients all the information we have on the vaccine, show them the confidence we have because we've taken it ourselves."
"It helps quite a bit having patients telling other patients that they got the vaccine and that they're fine. It builds up a lot of confidence in the process."
Gattison said what gave him confidence to get the vaccine was the care he has received altogether since beginning dialysis treatments about a year ago at Wake Forest Baptist's Northside Dialysis Center.
"Those folks here have been like guardian angels, they have been so kind-hearted," Gattison said.
Gattison said that he "and some of my homebodies" have been talking about the vaccine for a while.
"We remember as children how the brown and black communities were treated with medicine that wasn't for the best for us," Gattison said.
"We've all seen the sickness and deaths connected to this virus and how it is especially affecting those black and brown. I think those things are convincing more of us to have faith in this vaccine as a way to stay healthy and alive."
Linda Bowman, 71, said she agreed to get the vaccine in part "because I want to be safe for my kids and grandkids."
"Family and friends told me to get the vaccine because you want to be able to get out and about again, and you don't want to be exposed any more than you have to be."
Larry Covington said getting the COVID-10 vaccine "was no big deal" after serving in the U.S. Army for more than two years in the mid-1960s. He said his wife is awaiting her second dose.
"I've probably had more than 500 vaccination shots while in the military," said the 75-year-old Covington.
"What is a big deal is being able to get the vaccine now instead of having to wait until April for an appointment through Novant or never hearing from the VA about a shot.
"It's better to be safe than sorry."