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Early coronavirus vaccine recipient feels optimistic about what lies ahead

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By Pablo Ros ·

When Myo Thant asked his boss at the University of Washington Medical Center when she thought the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine might arrive, her best guess was end of December.

A patient care technician who is a member of the Washington Federation of State Employees (AFSCME Council 28), Thant had been following the final stages of the vaccine development process and was excited by the prospect of the first doses being distributed. Then when he came into work on Dec. 15, his boss greeted him with a simple question: “Are you ready?”

On that day, Thant became one of 13 front-line workers at the hospital to receive the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration just four days earlier.

The excitement at receiving a vaccine for a disease that has killed more than 300,000 people in the United States since the pandemic began just over nine months ago was tempered by how otherwise routine it felt.

“I feel very normal,” Thant said. “It feels like a flu shot, same as any other vaccine.”

As a front-line worker, Thant has been putting his life at risk every single day that he has reported to work to care for COVID-19 patients. Front-line workers across the United States –emergency first responders, sanitation workers, correctional officers, child care providers, among others – are the true heroes of this pandemic. They have persevered and quite literally saved our nation, despite the federal government’s failure to fund the front lines and otherwise provide them with adequate support.

After health care workers and nursing home residents, an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended that front-line essential workers – including police officers, teachers and day care workers – as well as people 75 years old and over should be next to receive the vaccine.

Without doubt, this is a victory for America’s front-line heroes and something to celebrate, but it follows months of inaction on the part of the federal government. For more than half a year, front-line workers and AFSCME have been calling on Congress and the president to approve much-needed aid to states, cities, towns and schools. Economists on both sides of the ideological spectrum have agreed that such aid is a no-brainer.

And yet Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have failed to act. The most recent coronavirus relief bill, approved late Monday, fails to include direct aid for states, cities and towns.

As a result of this inaction, some 1.3 million public service workers have lost their jobs. Millions more remain at risk.

As a year unlike any other comes to an end, Thant is optimistic about 2021, not because of the failures of Congress and the Trump administration but despite them.

“It’ll take time for everyone to get vaccinated and we have to educate the public, but we are at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I believe by the summer things will change. After that, it will be a good year for us.”

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