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'Too many people are dying' | Maryland nursing home nursing assistant describes her vaccine fears and why she got the shot anyway

GNA Tomeka Barbour says she watched more than 50 residents die during the pandemic. Monday, she got the vaccine to protect them and herself.

LA PLATA, Md. — The pandemic hit nursing homes and the nurses that work at them hard last spring. 

Now, vaccine distribution has put one Maryland nursing assistant who saw the horror COVID-19 brought to nursing homes in a unique position to help further the understanding of coronavirus vaccination.

Tomeka Barbour just got her first dose Monday. Now, she works at Genesis Elder Care in La Plata, Maryland as a GNA (geriatric nursing assistant).

At the first peak of the pandemic, deaths in Maryland nursing homes accounted for half of the state's COVID deaths.

"At the beginning of all of this, I wanted to just bow out and not do nursing anymore because it was so painful, but I can’t leave," Barbour said. "I love what I do. I’ve been doing it for 18 years.”

She estimates that more than 50 of her residents died during the pandemic.

“You see people missing their family members," she said. "There’s nothing you can do when you see them just crying out for their family and want to just see and touch. It’s painful to actually see that happening."

Barbour said Zoom calls have been their saving grace for connection. And now the vaccine she hopes will be their answer to protection from the virus.

“It’s just scary out here," she said. "Too many people are dying.”

RELATED: 'Keeping families informed helps with the grief' | Daughter lost dad to COVID-19 in Charles County nursing home and wants answers

Barbour, who has to don layers of masks and gowns to work every day, said she was still really scared to get the vaccine.

“Just the not knowing of what — because I have existing health conditions as far as asthma and certain things — what would it affect? How would it affect you?” she said.

But, she said she wanted to protect herself, her residents, and her family, many of whom have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk if exposed to the coronavirus.

“I can understand you being scared. I can understand the hesitation, nervousness, all that stuff," Barbour said. "But just trust in God and do what you have to do. Just take the vaccine.”

Barbour said it felt like getting a flu shot — only a little bit of injection pain and arm soreness. A day later, she doesn't feel any other side-effects. She said she's slated to get her second dose on January 18.

She doesn't plan to keep fighting and showing up for her residents. And, she hopes the vaccine will prevent her from having to say a premature goodbye to anyone else she cares about.

“Walk by faith not fear," she said.

Credit: Tomeka Barbour
Nurse Tomeka Barbour, works in a Maryland nursing home, just received her first COVID vaccine Monday.

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