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Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is about more than protecting yourself, says Board of Health member Jani Hitchen.

Jani Hitchen got vaccinated for COVID-19 for those who can’t.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health member who represents Pierce County Council’s 6th District got her first shot of Moderna vaccine on Vax Day for several reasons. She wants to stay healthy. She wants our schools and businesses to fully reopen safely. She wants to visit her friends and family again without worry.

But at the top of her list, was concern for those who are unable to get the vaccine themselves. People with health issues and children. They are relying on the rest of us to help achieve community immunity.

Jani Hitchen

“I don’t have any underlying health conditions,” she said. “I live alone. I’m low priority. But I knew because I am out in the world that I was a risk to anyone who couldn’t get vaccinated.”

So on April 15, the first day everyone 16 years and older became eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine, Hitchen volunteered at a clinic in Eatonville and got her first dose. She will get the second dose May 15.

“Me choosing not to get vaccinated would put other people in the community at risk,” she said. “If you think about it with that mentality, it’s simple.”

Kids, schools and community immunity.

Among the people who can’t get vaccinated right now are kids 15 and under, many of whom have returned to in-person learning in our schools.  

Before being sworn into the County Council in January, Hitchen spent more than 20 years teaching in Pierce County. She knows teachers, students and parents are all excited about kids returning to the classroom, but she points to the vaccine as an important safeguard.

“We have lots of kids in our community who have health issues,” she said. “And while COVID typically doesn’t severely impact youth, we want to avoid them getting it if  possible. The vaccine is a way families can help do that—if all the adults and teachers that come in contact with kids get vaccinated that will help.”

That goes for the teens who are eligible to get vaccinated as well.

Jani Hitchen gets vaccinated for COVID-19.

“If you’re 16-25 years old and you’re just putting it off, keep your family, the people you work around and your teachers in mind,” Hitchen said.

The virus treats everyone differently, and we still don’t know all the lasting side-effects. That’s another reason anyone who can get the vaccine should, Hitchen said.

“I was a high school science teacher for years,” she said. “We would talk about why vaccines are important and one of the things that would always come up, especially with HPV (human papillomavirus) is the unknown later-on impacts.”

Although most who get COVID-19 recover within weeks to months of illness, some do not. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and experts around the world are working to learn more about short- and long-term health effects associated with the disease. 

“Young people have got to consider the unknown and possible long-term effects of the virus,” she said. “We didn’t know with HPV that it was causing cancer until after several years of study. I don’t want to scare people, but we don’t know what this virus is going to do over time.”

Plenty of pathways to get vaccinated.

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 has never been easier. You can find plenty of doses available at clinics all over Pierce County. Register at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture or just stop by any of the clinics during business hours. No appointment  necessary.

“At this point in this county, it seems like if you want a vaccine you can find one,” Hitchen said.

COVID-19 vaccine is always free, whether you have insurance or not. If you need a ride to your appointment, we can help. Call (253) 858-7088 or visit atstrans.org. Pierce Transit also gives free bus rides to people going to vaccine appointments. Call (253) 581-8000 (press 1, then press 1 again) or visit piercetransit.org.

If you can’t easily leave your home and need help getting the vaccine, we can help with that, too! Call us at (253) 649-1412, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week.

“Again, I keep going back to the people in our community who can’t get vaccinated,” Hitchen said “They are depending on us as a community getting vaccinated to fight this disease.”

Hitchen said she was amazed at how quick and efficient it was for her to get the shot. Gone are the days of long lines and hours of waiting. With supply increased, the process is much faster than it was even a few weeks ago.

“I got all my questions answered. I didn’t get a lollipop, but I got a Band-Aid,” she joked. “It was great. I didn’t have any concerns.”

Returning to normal and un-canceling Christmas.

Another driving force for a lot of us to get vaccinated is so we can get back to doing many of the things we did before the pandemic. Those include enjoying more mask-free living and socializing again with family and friends.

“I think it comes down to a sense of security,” Hitchen said. “Right now, I get security when I go places and I see everybody masked up, and I feel as safe as I can. But I’m looking forward to that changing when we get more people vaccinated.”

For us to achieve community immunity, we need 7 or 8 out of every 10 people to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Once we achieve that, those public outings will hopefully look a lot more normal.

“I would really like to be able to go someplace and eat a meal and see people smile,” she said. “I miss being able to get together and share meals with a group of friends—even just putting out a plate of nachos at a party and not worrying.” 

What she’s looking forward to most is a redo of her canceled Christmas vacation. Hitchen was scheduled to spend the holiday with family but those plans fell through.

“A lot of people were traveling,” she said. “And basically our state and health advisory said, it’s not the best time to travel but if you do, please quarantine afterwards.”

She was weeks away from starting her new job with the County Council and decided it would be best not to risk it.

“My family got together in Ohio and had a family Christmas and I watched from afar over Zoom and basically spent Christmas alone,” she said.

Now that she’s on her way to being fully vaccinated, she plans to try again this summer.

“I’ve rescheduled for this summer,” she said. “My hope is by then everybody in my circle is immunized and I don’t have to do all the hoop jumping. But if I do, I will hoop jump because that’s what I want to do to protect the community.”

It’s that selfless message she wants to spread more than anything.

“You want to be safe, but you also want everyone to be safe,” Hitchen said. “I keep coming back to that.  If you’re not vaccinated, you are a risk to other people. I would feel horrible, if I gave someone else COVID.”

It’s also important to continue to take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID:

Learn more at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.