East Bay Filipino nurse relieved to get Pfizer vaccine

Elgie Agcaoili Camales (left) felt happy and relieved after being administered the first of two doses of Pfizer vaccine by a fellow nurse (right). (Photo by; Lauren Nelson, Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Communications Manager

Story by Jun Nucum

“I vividly remember in the early afternoon of December 16; I was excited to finally receive the vaccine that we have been waiting for months. This is hopefully the day that we are going to start to end the pandemic. It was exciting for me although I was a little nervous in the beginning. I don’t feel any side effects right now. I am just happy to take this vaccine to protect my family and the community.”

This was the reaction of Lodi California nurse Elgie Agcaoili Camales minutes after she became one of the first Filipinos to be administered the much-awaited first of two-doses Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial (AHLM).

Camales encouraged her 81-year old mother and her other family members to get the vaccine when it becomes available to everyone. After witnessing COVID-19 patients first hand, Camales did not want anyone else, much less her mother and other family members to suffer the same fate.

The wife and mother of two from Vintar, Ilocos Norte, Philippines had immigrated to Stockton, California in 1989, was prioritized to receive the vaccine at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial where she has been working for 13 years.

A nursing graduate of Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, Camales laments that their hospital is full. There are no more ICU beds and two floors are being used for COVID-19 patients as a result of the surge in the number of patients after the Thanksgiving celebration. At this time, AHLM hospital is in a disaster level status.

But this only strengthened her resolve to get the vaccine right away although health workers were told the vaccine is not mandatory but purely voluntary.

“We are tired and drained not just physically but also emotionally and mentally. There are so many patients including coworkers who have passed away from this virus. All the staff are tired because of nursing staff shortages due to increased number of COVID-19 cases.  The nurses work extra shifts to help ensure patient safety and relieve other nurses,” admitted Camales. The hospital is hiring nurse travelers to decrease the workload of the permanent nursing staff. “Hopefully, this vaccine will help end the pandemic so we can go back to living a normal life.”

Filipino nurses, like Camales are usually assigned to other critical COVID-19 departments including Respiratory Care Unit, Medical/Surgical Unit, Progressive Telemetry Unit, Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, etc.

Camales is saddened that there are more than 300,000 deaths in the United States alone due to COVID-19 and that the vaccine couldn’t be here any sooner. She was told that the hospital had limited vaccines available.

“The staffing problem due to manpower shortages and the continuous surge of patients are our major challenges at the moment. I want to reiterate that we healthcare workers are drained physically, emotionally, and mentally. I also ask everyone to continue to follow the health protocols – wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, and not gathering outside of their immediate household— even after getting the vaccine,” Camales said. Like other frontline health workers, she anticipates another surge during the holidays.

As we ended the interview, Camales was called by her manager to take an extra shift on her day off for the following day.  During this holiday season, please think twice about gathering outside of your immediate household.  Your responsible actions will be part of the solution to this global pandemic.

“Even though we are in this difficult time, we all need to stay strong and have a positive mindset to get through this.  Stay safe and Happy Holidays!”  Camales stated.