Vaccines arrive in St. Joseph County

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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind.-- To health officials, the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine is some of the best news we’ve received since the pandemic started in March.

“This is the best COVID news of the year and the fact that the vaccine is arriving in St. Joseph county today and there will be shots in arms tomorrow is great news,” St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said.

While patience is key during this process, there are a lot of you who still have some unanswered questions.

The first question: Whether or not age, gender or race play a role into which frontline workers get vaccinated first. The simple answer is no!

“It’s driven by appointments,” Dr. Mark Fox said. “Still our first priority is to get those frontline workers immunized and then more broadly healthcare workers and critical infrastructure workers. It really won’t be until that what’s called Phase 1B that we think who are the high risk and vulnerable patients where age and medical history will become important considerations.”

Question number two: How about immunity? Many people wonder how long it’ll take before the vaccine starts to become effective.

“In general, we think that it takes at least two weeks similar to the flu shot really to mount much of an immune response. It’s very clear that the data supports the two shots,” Dr. Mark Fox said.

Which leads us to our third question: Once immune, is there a possibility to still carry and spread the virus? The answer to that is a bit more complicated since it’s still under review.

“What we know for sure at this point is both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have proven to reduce the incidents of symptomatic COVID disease,” Dr. Mark Fox said.

Question number four: What exactly are the similarities and differences between the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine?

For starters, Dr. Mark Fox said that there are a lot of key similarities between the two. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require two-doses, however Pfizer requires the second shot 3-weeks apart, whereas Moderna is 4-weeks. Their efficacies are also both high over 90%.

As for differences, Dr. Fox said that they require different cold storage requirements. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, which can come with limitations on the number of facilities it can be stored in due to a lack of proper freezers. The other key difference Fox said is the projected number of doses, expecting to receive about twice as many doses of the Moderna vaccine than Pfizer over the next few months. It’s also important to add that you can’t flip-flop the two-doses, so whichever vaccine you get first, is the same you have to get the second time around.

Question number 5: How will the general public be informed when the vaccine is ready to be distributed community-wide? Dr. Mark Fox said that he’s not entirely sure just yet because things are still being sorted out at the state and county level. He says that it could take months before we get those definite answers.

“We will have mass vaccination sites run by the Health Department, but we also expect that as more vaccine is available that you’ll be able to go to your own doctor’s office and get it just like you would a flu shot or to go to a pharmacy to get it, but that will be a little bit further down in the Spring,” Dr. Mark Fox said.

Question number 6: Why is it important to continue social-distancing and mask wearing even after you are vaccinated?

“Until a sufficient proportion of the community has been immunized, so at least 70% of the community has been immunized, it’s going to be important to continue those mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of the virus,” Dr. Mark Fox said. “The vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of symptomatic disease, you may still be infected but be asymptomatic so you may be at risk on transmitting the virus. So, all the more reason we need to continue these strategies certainly until we know there is a true reduction of transmission of the disease associated with the virus.”

The final question: the future of the vaccine. Once the vaccine is distributed at a community wide level, is needing to get it again annually like a flu shot something to anticipate?

“At this point, my best guess is that people will need some kind of booster and whether that’s annually or on a different schedule, you know we have flu shot annually and we have tetanus booster much less frequently, where this falls on that spectrum remains to be determined,” Dr. Mark Fox said.

If you have a vaccine question you want verified by a health official, you can email ABC57 reporter Allison Zeithammer at azeithammer@abc57.com.

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