‘It’s hard to even talk about it’: Houston-area nurse who lost family to coronavirus on crusade to get people vaccinated

HOUSTON – As a COVID-19 vaccine nears approval by the Food and Drug Administration, a Houston-area nurse is encouraging her colleagues to get vaccinated once shipments arrive.

Irma Ikalina’s story of what the coronavirus has done to her family serves as the sad and sole reason she’s on a crusade to get people vaccinated.

“It’s hard,” Ikalina said. “It’s hard to even talk about it.”

Ikalina, her mother, her father, her daughter, and her mother-in-law chose nursing as a profession. That’s why finding the words to explain the goodbyes she has had to say hasn’t been easy.

“We lost my mother-in-law to it,” Ikalina said. “She was a retired nurse, as well. (We) lost my father last week, and my mom also is in the hospital fighting COVID.”

All were nurses, and while they didn’t contract the virus while on the job, Ikalina said it’s made doing the job a challenge. That’s especially the case for her daughter who just began her career in nursing.

“When she comes home from her job, I’m scared,” Ikalina said. “She has to quarantine from us because she’s scared of giving it to her sisters, to us.”

Twenty-six hospitals in the Houston-area will receive the first batch of vaccines.

KPRC 2 received responses from several on how they plan to administer vaccinations to staff, once a formal emergency use authorization is approved by the FDA. Overall, plans are still being finalized, hospital by hospital. Some officials told KPRC 2 that shipments will begin to arrive as soon as 24 hours after the approval. From there, hospitals will follow state and federal guidelines. The first offering of the vaccine will go to workers who are at high-risk themselves or work directly with high-risk or infected patients.

“Being the front line, being the tip of the spear in this war against COVID-19, this is the best armor we have,” said Kevin McFarlane, an emergency room nurse and president of the Houston Emergency Nurses Association.

“The CDC, the FDA, they all know they have one shot to get this right,” he added.

While McFarlane thinks the nurses should have the choice as to whether they want to get the vaccine, his advice is that they should.

He hosts a podcast called “The Art of Emergency Nursing.” This week’s episode explored the race toward a vaccine and what nurses needed to know about the importance of getting it. Overall, McFarlane stresses Houston-area hospitals have not had as overwhelming an experience treating COVID-19 patients as hospitals in other large cities.

“Our hospitals have done a fairly good job managing the influx, which I think certainly has been an advantage and a wonderful thing,” McFarlane said.

Ikalina said she considers the Pfizer vaccine a wonderful thing. Her father, Ernesto Peralta, would have turned 70 on Dec. 21. She’s raising money to cover rising medical costs for her family.

“If (a vaccine) could have saved my mother-in-law, my dad, I would have given it to them in a heartbeat,” Ikalina said.

About the Author:

Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.