Returning to a sense of normalcy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
UNICEF team members recount their stories of going through COVID-19 and getting vaccinated
It has been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives and disrupted our routines. In Armenia, where it seems like we all know each other, it is hard to come across anyone who hasn’t lost a loved one or acquaintance to COVID-19. Many of us have unique experiences and stories of infection and vaccination, and the members of UNICEF Armenia’s small staff are no exception.
UNICEF Nutrition Officer Mihran Hakobyan and his family were among the first people to get vaccinated in Armenia:
“Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine.”
“Vaccination is widely considered the most effective way of overcoming vaccine-preventable diseases and one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. It has virtually eradicated diseases that endangered humanity, such as measles and polio, saving millions of lives each year. Vaccines also protect those who have certain contraindications due to underlying health problems.
Since its establishment in Armenia in 1994, UNICEF has supported the National Immunization Programme of the Ministry of Health. Thanks to the Programme, no cases of vaccine-preventable diseases have been registered in Armenia for a long time. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of our healthcare system and our parents, who trust vaccines.
In this respect, COVID-19 vaccines are no exception; they are the most effective and reliable means to help control the pandemic. It should be noted that while vaccines are highly effective against serious illness, hospitalization, and death, no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Even if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19, it is important to continue to practice safety precautions to protect yourself and others.
“I do not doubt that we would have had milder symptoms had we been vaccinated earlier.”
COVID-19 left long-term effects for the family of UNICEF driver Ashot. He and his wife Gohar had COVID-19 in November 2020, when Armenia was confronted with the second wave of the virus amid the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Gohar had a more severe course of illness. She first had a high fever and later had to deal with pneumonia, which led to labored respiration and shortness of breath. Ashot recalls that due to Armenia’s healthcare system being overloaded, getting Gohar to a hospital was rather tough.
“It was very hard to see my wife in that condition; I don’t wish it upon anyone. I was desperate. She had trouble breathing and it was terribly difficult to see her in that condition. All this had its long-term effects on me. I felt very anxious. I kept thinking that it might be the last time I ever saw her.”
The distress caused by his wife's condition along with his own bout of COVID-19 required Ashot to be treated for a month. Although much time has passed since, Ashot still feels the effects of the disease. He says that he has become more introverted and is not as sociable as he once was.
“COVID-19 made us realize how vulnerable we are, so when the vaccines arrived in Armenia, both of us made sure to get vaccinated,” Ashot explains. Neither he nor Gohar experienced any major side effects.
“I do no doubt that we would have had milder symptoms if we had been vaccinated earlier,” Ashot says. According to him, his quality of life has also changed since being vaccinated. Now the two can communicate with others more freely. And though they do not participate in mass gatherings or large events just yet, they are not as reserved as they had to be in the first year of the pandemic.
“Vaccination was the best decision for me, my family members, and those around me.”
Severe symptoms, long COVID, respiratory care unit․ These are some of the phrases that describe Hasmik’s experience. Hasmik is UNICEF’s Adolescent Development Officer. She, along with nearly everyone in her family, faced COVID-19 in October 2020.
Despite severe symptoms, including a suffocating cough and weakness that lasted around 10 days, Hasmik had to be on her feet to take care of the other members of her family, especially her toddler. After recovering, she faced some long-term effects of COVID-19, such as prolonged weakness or minor memory loss.
Hasmik was still breastfeeding her son when she got infected. Amidst the torrent of misinformation circulating online, many of her acquaintances advised her not to breastfeed her toddler when she was infected.
“Of course, I didn't stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding helps support the baby's immune system and breastmilk is the best protection against infections. I believe it helped my son’s speedy recovery․ He had a high fever for only two days. By day three, he was already fine,” she explains.
Later, Hasmik's husband and mother-in-law were infected with COVID-19. Her mother-in-law spent close to a month in the intensive care unit with almost 10 percent lung function. She continued treatments at home for another month with a ventilator.
When the first batch of vaccines arrived in Armenia, Hasmik and her family were one of the first to be vaccinated. “I was waiting for the vaccines for a long time. Vaccination was the best decision for me, my family members, and those around me,” she says.
Hasmik says that the scientific facts, which she has learned about by regularly reading materials from UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, helped her overcome some of the pressure around her. She made sure to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and to continue breastfeeding despite the misinformation.
Hasmik had routine side effects, including feeling tired and drowsy for a couple of days after her first dose. She did not experience any symptoms after her second dose. For Hasmik, the most important side effect of the vaccine was that it gave her a sense of freedom and security. She recalls that before being vaccinated, she worried about the health of the people around her quite a bit. “After the vaccination, I feel more at ease. I do my errands more freely, and I have no issues going to cafes, gathering with my family, or going for a walk with my child. Thanks to the vaccine, I was recently able to travel as well,” she explains. “Public health is important. The more people are vaccinated, the more we will all be protected.”
“Vaccination is the only solution at the moment that prevents serious outcomes of COVID-19, including severe disease, hospitalization, and death.”
Heghinar, Child Protection Associate at UNICEF office in Armenia, contracted COVID-19 in November 2021, about five and a half months after being vaccinated, when she was planning to receive a booster dose. Her symptoms were moderate, and she spent a few days in bed.
“It was a very strange feeling. I was constantly thinking, what if I had not been vaccinated? Would I have been able to receive treatment at home? Although the course of the disease was of moderate severity, I did not have any complications thanks to the vaccination. My health did not deteriorate,” Heghinar says.
Heghinar says that it is very important to compare the risks․ “When you get infected without having received a vaccine, you never know how your body will react. You can’t control the consequences or the possible complications of the disease,” she explains. “When you’re vaccinated though, you know that you have equipped your body with the best defense. Even if you are infected, the symptoms will be milder, more manageable, and without complications.”
Heghinar had no post-vaccination side effects. She had no fears or doubts before being vaccinated since she refuses to accept and follow any information disseminated by unreliable sources. “You can’t distrust science in the 21st century. When you look at global vaccination statistics and see how low the percentage of adverse reactions is, you realize that the risk is very small. I’m sure I’m also helping people around me by getting vaccinated,” she says. “Two thousand and twenty-one was a difficult year for the Armenian nation; we had already suffered many casualties in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I considered it extremely important to get vaccinated, even if it meant preventing the death of just one more person.”
Vaccination has been life-changing for Heghinar’s family. She says that during the first COVID-19 outbreak in Armenia, when the number of cases was starting to increase, her four sisters isolated with their families, while her parents isolated separately. The fear of endangering their parents was real, so they decided that self-isolation was the best solution. As a result, Heghinar’s parents did not see their children and grandchildren for almost a year.
That was a difficult period for Heghinar’s large—and usually close-knit—family. For the first time, they couldn’t celebrate the holidays together. Though it proved to be a real challenge, their parents’ health was what was most important for them.
Now, with everyone in the family vaccinated, they can reunite and enjoy each other’s presence. They are, slowly but surely, returning to a sense of normalcy.
This is what COVID-19 vaccines have meant for our team members. Let us know how vaccines have changed your life. #VaccinesWork
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government