BOONE — With questions swirling around the COVID-19 vaccine, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion with community health experts and leaders to answer vaccine related questions.
The Jan. 12 webinar featured AppHealthCare health Director Jennifer Greene, Sean Burroughs of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Spencer Hodges of Boone Drug Inc., Scott St.Clair of Blue Ridge Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott.
“Everywhere you go it seems like people are talking about the COVID-19 vaccine,” said David Jackson, president/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are fortunate to have members and local businesses that have been studying these protocols and procedures for months. We hope that getting these panelists together in an environment where people can ask questions, and get credible responses, will help ensure our community is prepared for their opportunity to receive a vaccine when the time comes.”
The full panel discussion can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPEv6IC7juw&feature=youtu.be.
As of Jan. 12, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that 1,021 people have been given the first dose of the vaccine in Watauga County and 17 have had both doses. As of Jan. 11, AppHealthCare has given out 500 vaccines.
AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said the department hopes to vaccinate 1,000 individuals at a mass testing event at Watauga High School Jan. 16 in partnership with ARHS and other local partners.
“This event is by appointment only. We will be using the information people have already provided in the COVID-19 interest form to schedule appointments for Saturday’s event and are reaching out to those individuals now,” Bracey said.
AppHealthCare hopes to have vaccinated 1,700 people by the end of this week.
Many questions for the Jan. 12 panel were related to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. One of the first questions was about how long the vaccine will be effective in the body.
“The easiest answer right now is we’re not sure,” Burroughs said. “We need more data, we need more time.”
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, the COVID-19 vaccination works by teaching the immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick with COVID-19.
Some asked the panelists if it was safe to take the vaccine especially if they had a reaction in the past.
“What we’ve seen so far with vaccinations is that those folks that have had a previous reaction to vaccinations are at highest risk for having a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination,” Burroughs said.
If the reaction was a life threatening response to a MMR vaccine or flu vaccine, Burroughs doesn’t feel comfortable saying it would be a good idea to get the vaccine.
“If it was something that was manageable, then that’s probably something you need to talk with your health care provider,” Burroughs said. “It just depends on the severity of it and what your comfort level with it is.”
The CDC recommends people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, should not get either of the currently available mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The overall safety of the vaccine was another concern for some. Greene said she doesn’t want people to think there were safety protocols skipped over as there is a rigid process before something is rolled out.
“As a public health director, I don’t have concerns,” Greene said. “I do think it’s going to be one of the best tools we have in our toolbox to get to the other side of this pandemic.”
Other people had questions about children getting the vaccine which would currently happen in phase three of North Carolina’s vaccination plan.
St. Clair expects data on children and the vaccine to be released soon.
“And essentially, what they’re going to be doing is, once they get the data back on 12 (year olds), that’s going to be presented to the (Food and Drug Administration),” St Clair said. “If it looks favorable, and similar, the lower age limit is going to move down. And they’re just going to keep doing those studies until they get down to the youngest spot.”
The Pfizer vaccine trials went down to the 16-year-old range and the Moderna vaccine went to 18 years old.
Moving forward through the phases, Greene said it depends on the amount of vaccines they receive.
“I do believe we are working very hard to have partnerships that will, in effect, have infrastructure for us to roll out vaccines as quickly as we can,” Greene said. “It’s hard to say a timeline.”
At a Jan. 12 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is continuing to see an increase of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is working with several local communities to stand up large-scale vaccination events in the coming days that can help get these doses out efficiently into our communities,” Cooper said.
North Carolina has vaccinated 173,928 people with the first dose and 20,608 with the second dose as of Jan. 12, according to the NCDHHS.
“As the governor mentioned, we continue to accelerate vaccinations,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said. “We had a 113 percent increase in vaccinations over the past seven days, compared to the week before. Over 100,000 doses were given in just the past seven days.”
Watauga County is in phase 1b Group 1 of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine which means those who are 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation, are eligible for the vaccine.
New guidelines from the federal government came out Jan. 12 saying states should expand the vaccine to those 65 and older, which North Carolina is not doing as of Jan. 12. Cohen said NCDHHS would review those guidelines — which they have not yet seen in writing — and see how it fits into what the agency is currently doing.
More information on vaccines from the CDC can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.
More information from AppHealthCare can be found at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/.
More information from ARHS can be found at apprhs.org/vaccine/