Deborah Dormady Letham, PhD

Paying it Forward During the Year of COVID

A COVID vaccine buddy, ‘Acts of Kindness’ buddy, and even a turkey leftovers buddy. A banner year for appreciating one other.

As I trawled websites looking for vaccination openings, it was not lost on me that I was grateful to have NOT been eligible to get the COVID vaccine until now, because that meant I was NOT among the most vulnerable populations who really needed these shots before I did.

But after a year where I wore my PPE, socially distanced from others, didn’t hug my parents, and commuted to work as safely as possible, it was now my time to get a shot! YAY! And now in the United States the vaccinations are widely available.

As an essential worker supporting a safety-testing laboratory—one of the testing sites that helped some of the COVID-19 vaccines get to market—the process of finding my own shot felt a bit surreal. Similarly surreal, it was not the work that I and some of my colleagues in Methods Development, Methods Qualification and the Molecular Departments did THIS year for supporting the vaccinations, it actually was work from LAST year – a few years ago actually – developing tests and qualifying them to demonstrate reliability. See, however novel these vaccines are, they get the standard regimen of testing that many medications would, with a few new tests especially developed for these medications. And the speed? No corners were cut, it was because the workers worked overtime, and the reviewers reviewed the work in the nick of time to get the medications released.

Acts of Appreciation

I found vaccination appointment thanks to a buddy of mine searching medical center websites.

Image of two women after receiving their COVID vaccine
With my valiant friend Christina, on right.

This has been a year of demonstrating and appreciating acts of kindness. From the sharing of toilet paper and necessary supplies during those early stress-filled pandemic lockdown months, to the virtual and in-person volunteering by friends and co-workers, to simple things like checking in on our neighbors, relatives and co-workers, I would say this has been a banner “Acts of Kindness” Year!

These are the times that inspire us to “pay it forward” as much as we can. Imagine the smile of a veteran’s face when you notice his special hat behind you in the McDonald’s drive-thru lane and you pay for his $5 breakfast. Who knows where that smile from your rearview mirror will take him that day? What a joy to give away an extra turkey that was cluttering freezer space anyway to a family who was isolating last spring from grocery store shopping. While I was eating my corned beef, the photos of their unique Thanksgiving in March (complete with festive napkins and fixings) was priceless and sweet.

Image of a turkey spreadThe info for my vaccination appointments came as a text from that same buddy who enjoyed the extra turkey last year! And open appointments were a great opportunity to take a friend with me—a COVID Vaccine Buddy! The friend I took was an easy choice, and she is no ordinary friend. Christina is a mom of 3 who barely had time to think let alone monitor websites for timeslots. Amid everything else, she is dealing with a rare disease that exhausts her. A fellow Girl Scout mom, whom I wrote about in multiple blogs , Christina is currently receiving novel technology infusions to treat her Amyloidosis . This treatment is keeping her battery charged for her Energizer Bunny lifestyle. “Better living through chemistry” is simply and crucially helping to extend her time living in the here and now.

It is remarkable how modern-day medicines based on separate RNA technologies are contributing to both Cristina’s amyloidosis treatment and to two of the novel COVID-19 vaccines. Different medications but similar in that they were produced, and safety tested to get to market in the nick of time.

Our CEO many times thanked us in his monthly videos for venturing to work during a pandemic, but it was and is we who could thank him for having a job that was and is so meaningful. I REALLY appreciate my work buddies this year!