Type 2 Diabetes and the Covid Vaccine


“I’m a very devout Christian. And the Lord has got it in his hands, and whichever way it works out is the way it’s going to be. But I see no reason to take chances that you don’t have to take. So, therefore, the vaccine, that was my choice.”

– Jeanie Wheeler, of Johnson County, Ky.

While most all of us have been trying to avoid COVID-19, for Jeanie Wheeler, of Johnson County, the stakes are a little different. Jeanie has type 2 diabetes, which is one of the underlying health issues that health professionals say could make the symptoms of the coronavirus even worse, if you happened to get it.

Jeanie is also a volunteer firefighter, which has put her regularly in close contact with the public, throughout the pandemic. So, when she became eligible for a Covid vaccine earlier this year, Jeanie says she jumped at the chance to sign up. And in this radio story, Jeanie tells us about what led her to make that decision, both personally and professionally.

Also in this piece, we hear from Denesa Watts, a Licensed Diabetes Educator with the Kentucky River District Health Department, in Knott County. Denesa talks about just how important it is for people with type 2 diabetes to get vaccinated, and about why she trusts the vaccine. She also says that anyone with hesitation around the Covid vaccine should know that their doctors, nurses, & health professionals are getting vaccinated themselves.

All Kentuckians age 16 and up are now eligible for a Covid vaccine. For more information, talk to your doctor, call your local health department, or check out vaccine.ky.gov.

Music in this story (“Bergen County Farewell” and “Going Back to East Montgomery”) was performed by Glenn Jones, from the WFMU collection on the Free Music Archive.

Click here for the full transcript of this story:

NARRATOR: As a volunteer firefighter, for Jeanie Wheeler, of Johnson County, her job was stressful enough already, before the pandemic hit.

[Jeanie Wheeler]: It’s not always a fire that we respond to, but accidents, medical emergencies— all those kinds of things. So, you may be up close and personal in a lot of situations. So, it’s been a little difficult here in the last year or so!

NARRATOR: Jeanie is also a retired nurse. And being in regular close contact with strangers as a firefighter, she says it’s been hard sometimes not to think about the coronavirus.

[JW]: Yeah, it’s always in the back of my mind. It’s like, you know— I have medical issues myself; I have elderly parents who have medical issues; I have grandchildren that are around me occasionally. So, it worries me that I might expose myself to something that I don’t want for sure, and I sure don’t want to take in to anybody else.

NARRATOR: And while a lot of us have been nervous about getting the virus, for Jeanie, the stakes are a little different. She has type 2 diabetes, and while she says she keeps healthy and manages her blood sugar well, health professionals say that type 2 is one of several conditions, like COPD, or black lung disease, or heart disease, that could make the symptoms of COVID-19 worse, if you were to happen to get it.

So when she became eligible for a vaccine, Jeanie says she didn’t hesitate.

[JW]: Well, given my current medical state, I had to make a decision on whether—do you take a chance on getting it, because you know, with your diabetes, that in all likelihood, if it’s a bad case, you’re not gonna make it through? Or do you go ahead and take a chance on taking the vaccine? And I had no issues with deciding that the vaccine was the way to go.

And for me, I was always for vaccinations for my children. And my daughter’s a frontline worker, and she had her vaccines; my parents have had theirs, and they’re like 85 and 89 years old. And they did exceptionally well, they had no side effects whatsoever from either dose.

You know, this is— it’s not a local thing. It’s a major worldwide issue. And all the other countries are in the same position that we are. So, we just have to take a chance.

* * *

[Denesa Watts] We do know that people with diabetes are more likely to have more serious complications from Covid-19.

NARRATOR: Denesa Watts is a registered nurse, and a licensed diabetes educator with the Kentucky River District Health Department in Knott County.

[DW]: So, we really encourage people with diabetes to talk to their physicians and to consider having that Covid vaccine. And also, we know that the risk of getting sick from COVID-19 is likely to be lower if their diabetes is well-managed. So, we know right now is a very stressful time, and lots of times when we’re stressed, we kind of get lax in doing some of those important things— you know, our healthy eating; our physical activity. But it’s more important now than ever to try to keep those blood sugars in control, and to try to keep their diabetes well-managed.

NARRATOR: Denesa said she got her vaccine literally as soon as she could.

[DW]: Absolutely, the first day it was available for me! And I’ll never forget it, it was an emotional day too! Because just thinking what— the changes in our lives over the past year, and to think about this vaccine, how wonderful it was, that step in getting back to some normalcy in our lives.

NARRATOR: While Denesa knows some people might have questions about the vaccine, she says people should know that their doctors and nurses and health professionals are getting vaccinated themselves. Denesa herself has even been helping to give out Covid vaccines, on top of her diabetes work.

[DW]: In the local health departments, we had long waiting lists when the vaccine came out, folks wanting to get their name down. I think most health care providers really feel strongly that the advantage of taking the vaccine greatly outweighs the possible risk from the vaccine. Which, there are other folks who have more side-effects, but from what I’m seeing as a provider, the majority of the time it’s just a little sore arm. And most of those side effects we do see have been going away in 24, 36 hours. It doesn’t last long in general.

[JW]: With my vaccine, the first one, my arm was a little sore…

NARRATOR: Here again is Jeanie Wheeler, of Johnson County.

[JW]: …the day afterward, I was a little sluggish, you know, but nothing really drastic at all. And with the second one, my arm got pretty sore that time. The next day, I just wanted to kind of lay around the house, and didn’t really feel like eating much that day or anything. But, I mean, there was no side effects that were really any major issues.

NARRATOR: Speaking of side effects, you might have heard that the FDA recently lifted a temporary pause on the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to the FDA, the pause was because of a rare, but serious blood clotting issue in the days following the shot. This has been incredibly rare, though— so far, it’s affected just around two out of every one million people who’ve gotten the Johnson & Johnson shot, and health experts say the pause was a sign the system is working like it should, to help medical providers best look out for people who might end up with these rare side-effects. Here in Kentucky, the vast majority of vaccines given out have been from Pfizer or Moderna, and there have been no reports of a similar issue with them.

For her part, Denesa says she believes in the public health systems that test and regulate our vaccines.

[DW]: I’ve been a public health nurse for 33 years; I’ve always been an advocate of all of our vaccines. I spent many years vaccinating babies, young children with some of the TDAP vaccines, the Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Chicken Pox. So we just really encourage people—those not only with diabetes, but anyone—to look at the possible risk if they actually did contract the COVID-19 virus, and kind of weigh the risk with the vaccine.

It’s not something that has been looked at lightly. It has been tested, trials. So we feel that it is a safe vaccine.

* * *

[JW]: You know, with the Fire Department, we have a lot of EMTs, and we have career firefighters as well as the volunteers— and they have all been more than willing to take the vaccine and to protect themselves, you know.

So, I mean, it’s not like anybody is forcing you to do that. But it’s just a personal decision that you have to make yourself.

I’m a very devout Christian. And the Lord has got it in his hands, and whichever way it works out is the way it’s going to be. But I see no reason to take chances that you don’t have to take. So, therefore, the vaccine, that was my choice.