District health officials prepare for COVID-19 vaccine

By Taylor Boyd

The West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) started preparing for to the COVID-19 vaccine long before the first batch arrived Virginia Tuesday.

Nancy Bell, public information officer for the district, said preparations have been difficult.

“We’re getting it, but we don’t exactly know when. When we get it, we have to give it very quickly, and it has to be stored at -90° Fahrenheit, and we don’t have adequate space for that,” she said.

As a result, Bell said the district has started “calling their hospital and doctor office partners to see if they can give their own shots as tier one is medical personnel anyway.”

She said the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville has also offered the use of its subzero freezers to store the vaccine, and the Harvest Foundation has also “reached out to see if we (WPHS) need anything.

“I guess we could get refrigerated trucks, ice trucks, and set them in the parking lot if we have to,” Bell said.

The COVID-19 vaccine also must be administered very quickly after receiving it.

According to the Pfizer website, the vaccine has a shelf-life of 30 days in the Pfizer thermal shipper. “Vaccination centers can transfer the vials to 2-8°C storage conditions by vaccination centers for an additional five days, for a total of up to 35 days. Once thawed and stored under 2-8°C conditions, the vials cannot be re-frozen or stored under frozen conditions,” the website stated.

The short shelf-life of the virus is an issue, Bell said.

“If you don’t know when it (vaccine) is coming, and it comes, you know it might come on Christmas Eve, you must start vaccinating right then. If the vaccine is not used within 30-35 days it becomes unusable, she added.

Bell said the other issue with the vaccine is that you have to get a booster 21 days later. So, we’ve got to capture the same people that we gave the vaccine to on day one and get them all back for boosters on day 21.”

She added the vaccine and booster also arrive in separate deliveries.

“We have a plan in place, and we have a plan B and a C,” she said, adding she doesn’t know what the vaccination process will look like.

“Martinsville Speedway has offered up its space again like we did for testing” for vaccinations, Bell said, but she does not know if the location will be used as a vaccination site.

Penny Hall, Chief Operating Officer of the WPHD, said Virginia will receive 480,000 doses of the first part of the two-part vaccine.

These vaccines only be for Phase 1A individuals, which are health care personnel in hospitals and long-term care facility residents and staff, Hall said.

Bell said having health care professional receive the vaccine in the first round should make the average person feel more comfortable getting the vaccine.

“Look at it this way, health people are getting the first round, so they’re sort of the test population as well. Let’s watch and see what happens as we mitigate ourselves and vaccinate ourselves. None of us would do that if we didn’t think it was safe,” she said.

Dr. Kerry Gateley, director of the West Piedmont and Central Virginia health districts, said the vaccine “is made up of proteins that carry a piece of the COVID DNA. When injected, the body rejects the foreign protein and develops immunity.”

He added that no fetus materials of any kind are present in the vaccine.

Gateley said the immunity development process is normal.

The body does this itself all the time when fighting various diseases. “The vaccine does not cause the person receiving it to get COVID-19,” he said, adding some people will have a reaction to the vaccine, just like with the flu vaccine.

“The first round (of vaccinations) is going to be a chance for us to understand the vaccine better, understand how it reacts with people. I think the average person would be put at ease to know this population of people got the vaccine and had very little side effects,” Bell said.

Sarah Gutpa, MD, a board-certified physician and contributing writer to the GoodRx website, said between 10 percent to 15 percent of people will have mild, shirt-term side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

“For most people, these side effects are mild and go away on their own in a couple of days,” she said.

Gupta said side effects may include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and joint pain.

“If you do have side effects, they are a good sign that the vaccine is working. The COVID-19 vaccine is designed to teach your body how to fight coronavirus in the future,she said, adding the side effects are the result of a normal and health immune system responding to the vaccine.

“Side effects do not mean you have COVID-19, even though some of the symptoms may be the same. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. This is medically impossible,” Gupta said.

Information from the World Health Organization (WHO) website suggested that like most vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines will not be 100 percent effective. WHO also said that “it’s too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term protection.

“It’s encouraging that available data suggest that most people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides at least some protection against reinfection,” the website added.

Bell said the vaccine is free to anyone who takes it.

It’s offered by the federal government, through the state governments and the local governments, with the understanding that with the more people we vaccine, the more likely we are to get the virus under control,” she said.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 15, data from the Virginia Department of Health suggested there are 604 cases in the county, with 69 hospitalized, and 28 dead from the COVID-19 virus.

For more tips on how to stay safe, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronoavirus/2019-ncov.

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