Their loved ones.
All those reasons surfaced as people discussed why they received COVID-19 vaccines recently at the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.
They were among the thousands who rolled up their sleeves to receive a shot at the clinic that’s a collaboration between the Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health and Mercy Health.
Some spoke of their longing to see loved ones after months of safety precautions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.
“I really missed having our large, large Thanksgiving dinner at our house last year,” Lisa Rios said.
“I got the vaccine personally to keep myself safe and keep the community and people around me safe,” Kyanna Mosley said.
“I did it because I want to get to herd immunity as quick as possible,” Ethan Rios said. “The sooner we are there, the less people get hurt and the less people die.”
Others spoke of their support for the research behind the COVID-19 vaccines.
“This has gone through the process with a lot of scrutiny on it,” Esai Umenei said. “For me it’s the next step toward getting back to normal.”
“I got the vaccine because I think science is real,” Leah Mulder said.
She compared the COVID-19 pandemic to the polio outbreaks in the 1900s that caused paralysis and death.
“They needed (polio) eradicated, and they used a vaccine, like they are doing now,” she said, referring to the polio vaccine introduced in the 1950s.
“I believe in vaccines,” Kent Lavengood said. “I have been getting vaccinated my entire life. The smartest people I know are getting vaccinated, and they tell me I should get vaccinated.”
Most Americans eat way too much salt—and they probably don’t even know it.
How much are you supposed to eat? Less than 2,300 milligrams a day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
For people with cardiovascular or kidney disease, that number drops to 1,500 milligrams a day, which is also the American Heart Association’s ideal limit.
But how much sodium does the average American consume in a day? About 3,400 milligrams.
“Most of us are taking in too much,” said Holly Dykstra, a registered dietitian with Spectrum Health Cardiovascular Medicine. “The average person can probably stand to lower their sodium intake to some extent.”
Where is all this sodium we eat coming from? Why is it bad for us? And what can we do to limit it?
Dykstra has answers.Why do we need sodium? When is it too much?
We need some sodium every day. It helps maintain the right balance of fluids in the body and it’s important in nerve and muscle function. Our kidneys work to naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies.
If there’s more sodium than your kidneys can eliminate, it builds up in your blood.
“In our bodies, salt and fluids hug each other to maintain a balance,” Dykstra said. “The problem is that when we eat more salt, we retain more fluid to maintain that balance. And for a lot of people, this can be concerning.”
If you have high blood pressure, heart failure or kidney disease, the extra fluid causes problems because it makes your heart and kidneys work harder to do their job, Dykstra said.
This puts a strain on those organs.
“The research shows that those populations can benefit from lower sodium intake,” Dykstra said.
Eating more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day can cause us to retain an extra gallon of fluid in our bodies, which is about 8 pounds, she said.
To put that in perspective, a teaspoon of salt is approximately 2,300 milligrams of sodium.How much sodium am I eating?
One way to find out how much sodium you’re getting is to read nutritional labels.
First look at the top of the label, at the serving size. Many of the packaged foods we eat have more than one serving in a single container, Dykstra said. It’s important to compare what you are eating to the serving size.
Then look on the left side of the label for the amount of sodium in milligrams. Your total sodium consumption should be less than 2,300 milligrams each day, or lower if you have some of the previously mentioned conditions.
You can also look on the right side of the label for the percent daily value, which is based on a general 2,000-calorie diet. Dykstra notes that if one serving contains 20% of more sodium, it is likely a high sodium food.
Also beware of sodium sources on labels that might not explicitly say sodium, such as monosodium glutamate.What are some high sources of sodium?
Believe it or not, only about 10% of the sodium we eat every day comes from salt we add during home cooking or at the table, according to the American Heart Association. About 70% of our salt intake comes from pre-packaged, processed foods and restaurant meals.
The foods highest in sodium are the well-known culprits, such as canned soups, frozen foods, chips, pizza, cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, soy sauce, boxed macaroni and cheese, pre-packaged meals and sides.
But Dykstra said people are often surprised to learn the amount of sodium in bread, cheese, milk, salad dressings and electrolyte replacement drinks like Gatorade.
“When we look at foods that probably should spoil, but they haven’t, that’s where it’s surprising,” she said. “We’re so used to modern ways of preserving food, and bread having a long shelf life.”What can I do to reduce sodium in my diet?
Dykstra’s No. 1 recommendation? Try to eat mostly nutrient-dense, whole, fresh foods—foods that have not been processed or refined.
This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, fish and eggs.
“If you’re eating a diet with whole foods or only minimally processed foods, you’ll most likely get all the sodium your body needs to function normally,” she said. “You will also be eating lots of other important nutrients for your body to thrive.”
When buying processed foods, read the labels to monitor your sodium intake.
Also try to limit your consumption of restaurant food, especially fast food, she said.
When you’re cooking at home, it might be OK to flavor with some salt, but try to use the minimum needed—and don’t add more salt at the table. Rely on herbs and spices to flavor recipes.
“That is why it’s important for us to eat nutrient-dense foods,” Dykstra said. “If we’re eating a minimally processed diet, there may be room for a sprinkle of salt added to a meal. It can open up the flavors of foods and add texture to your foods.”
Sodium is not inherently bad. But like many other things in the American diet, it has expanded beyond its intended use, Dykstra said.
“It has started getting extreme and now we have to work backwards,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do to reduce our sodium intake, but little by little we’ll get there.”
The doors to the COVID-19 vaccine clinic open.
Patients arrive at a steady clip.
They follow the arrows, register and receive their vaccines.
Over and over again, the process repeats—sometimes for 12 or 16 hours—as thousands of people come through the clinic.
For the Spectrum Health team members who work in the clinics, it means long and busy days.
But they also are days filled with hope.
And a sense of purpose.
After witnessing the sometimes devastating effects of COVID-19, the team members welcome the chance to play a role in preventing the spread of this virus.
Meet a few of the Spectrum Health team members who work in the vaccine clinics.Jessica Hunter, RN
For nurse Jessica Hunter, giving COVID-19 vaccines comes with a special perk: A chance to thank patients for getting vaccinated.
As a nurse, Hunter worked in a COVID-19 unit and in an intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital.
She cared for patients on ventilators. She helped families say goodbye to their loved ones.
And she embraced that mission with compassion and dedication.
“Being helpful and being there for others is what I’ve always wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I have the greatest job in the world.”
But still, it was tough emotionally.
“I don’t think they understand what it was like for us,” she said. “This last year has been very hard.”
That is why she is so grateful to everyone who gets vaccinated—because she hopes it will help curb the spread of COVID-19.
She finds satisfaction in rolling up a patient’s sleeve to give the injection. Sometimes, she sees the small scar left behind by a smallpox vaccine years ago. It reminds her that vaccines helped achieve victory over another deadly disease.
“It’s 100% a feeling of hope,” she said. “After all that I saw on the front lines during COVID-19, this is just so hopeful.”Sam Yarbrough
Patient services representative Sam Yarbrough watched a man carrying a bundle of papers while using his wheelchair to navigate through the clinic.
When she offered to staple the papers together to make them easier to manage, his gratitude was heartwarming.
“He said, ‘I just really appreciate you,’” Yarbrough recalled.
Positive attitudes abound in the vaccine clinics, and that makes the work even more rewarding, she said.
“I like being part of it,” Yarbrough said. “They are so happy—the most grateful people you will ever see. It warms your heart to see we are making a change in people’s lives.”Holly Cole, RN
Nurse Holly Cole has not yet met her nephew, born last August, because of COVID-19 precautions.
“I know there are so many people out there like me, who are waiting to embrace and hug their loved ones,” she said. “It is very important for me to play a small part in getting people back with their families and friends.”
That is why Cole is happy to give injections to patients at the vaccine clinics.
As she meets patients, she likes to hear why they want the vaccine.
Some have kept distant from loved ones to protect themselves and others from the virus. Some have medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Some patients are nervous, and she is happy to answer their questions and share information about the vaccine.
But most patients are joyful and relieved to get the vaccine.
“Having this vaccine has really instilled hope in a lot of people,” she said.
“It is very humbling and very exciting. And I am very proud to be part of this team that is doing this every day.”Nye Palmer
Working on the front lines of the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, Nye Palmer sees history in the making.
“This is something that will be in my grandson’s social studies book,” she said. “When he grows up, this will be a big thing for him.”
As a lead patient services representative, she has helped in vaccine clinics since the clinics opened in January.
Because the availability of the vaccine can be unpredictable, she and her team often must adapt quickly to changes in clinic schedules.
“My team hasn’t complained. I think we all are happy we get to help someone,” she said. “There definitely is good teamwork.”
Palmer also encourages family and friends to get the vaccine and tries to address concerns and questions she hears.
On her Facebook page, she posted updates about her first and second shots of the Moderna vaccine.
“I want everyone to be healthy and I want to save lives,” she said.
She got the vaccine, she said, “for my family, for my mom, my children and my grandson. I want to do normal things again. I want to be out there in the world again.”Chelsea Selbig and Jeremy Kelly
Working in emergency preparedness for Spectrum Health, Chelsea Selbig and Jeremy Kelly recall the first discussions about the coronavirus in late 2019. They became involved in planning how Spectrum Health would respond if the virus surfaced in West Michigan.
By early 2020—with a pandemic declared and the virus spreading locally—they witnessed the shortages of personal protective equipment and swabs for testing.
“To go from that to being able to give vaccines in 10 months is really incredible,” Selbig said. “It’s incredible to me to see the progression.”
Now, Selbig and Kelly run community vaccine clinics, helping to manage the procession of hundreds of people an hour as they arrive, register and receive their vaccines.
Making the process a smooth experience for patients involves much behind-the-scenes planning, as well as a willingness to analyze the situation and quickly revise as necessary.
“We have been able to streamline this process and make it incredibly efficient,” Selbig said. “Every week, I feel we get a little better.”
They appreciate the dedication and positive attitudes of team members working the clinics.
“Staff morale is pretty incredible,” Kelly said.
“You can tell everyone is really happy and glad to be here helping patients,” Selbig said. “This is just a micro level of a massive global issue, and they get to be part of something really neat—something they can tell their family about later.”