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FAQ: What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital,...
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)(Jessica Hill | AP)
Updated: Dec. 21, 2020 at 10:19 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - As the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the ArkLaTex on Monday, KSLA reporter Destinee Patterson sat down, via Zoom, with Dr. Joseph Bocchini, director of Children Health Services for the Willis-Knighton Health System

First of all, does this vaccine actually prevent you from getting the virus?

We really don’t know that yet. We know that the vaccine prevents us from developing disease caused by COVID-19. But the studies that are available so far, did not test to see whether a person who’s vaccinated, who does not show symptoms can carry the virus. Additional studies are being done to evaluate that possibility. Because of that, even though we know that the vaccine prevents 95% of symptomatic infections, we’re still recommending that people who are vaccinated continued to follow the mitigation strategies that we have requested: mask wearing, social distancing, small groups meeting together until we know more about that.

Will there be enough for everyone at some point?

We really hope that more people choose to get the vaccine. I think that each manufacturer is planning to provide as many doses as possible once a vaccine is authorized by the FDA. The hope is that by May or June, we’ll have enough vaccines for everybody.

You mentioned “herd immunity.” We’ve been hearing that a lot. Can you explain what that is?

Herd immunity is a concept that has been well established in infectious diseases. And what it is, is that if you have enough people who are immune to an infection, that infection cannot spread through the community. So in other words, if there was a single case of COVID-19, but everybody around that case was immune to the virus, then the virus couldn’t spread to the next group of people, and then to the next group of people.

We know that there are multiple manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna. Now that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for this emergency use, how will those other ones be incorporated into the distribution?

The other vaccines have to follow the same, what we call, “phase three clinical trials” and reach an endpoint where there have been enough cases in the study group to determine whether the vaccine is effective. Throughout each study, safety is always a prime consideration. Safety endpoints have to be met as well. No vaccine can be looked at by the FDA until there’s enough safety and efficacy information to know that the vaccine works and how well it works. The Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine have met those endpoints. The expectation is that Moderna will follow next week, or by the end of this week. And then the next two or three vaccines, it really is going to depend on when they reach the same phase three trial endpoints. The hope is that they will reach those endpoints within the next couple of months.

How do you guys determine who gets what vaccine then?

The vaccine will be given when it’s available to whoever needs it next. It’s very important that when you get the first dose with a particular vaccine, you need the second dose with that same vaccine. However, the vaccines are being rolled out - because they’re small numbers to begin with - what will happen is, they will be given to the highest risk people first. But as the vaccines continue to roll out, if those two populations are taken care of, the CDC has not made official the next group, but the feeling is the next group will be essential workers, other people at considerable risks - firemen, police, other people who work in settings where they may have a significant exposure. And then following that, there’ll be people who, because of age, or underlying health conditions are at risk for severe disease, and then following that will be the general population.

So, there won’t really be a huge distinction between who gets the Pfizer vs. who gets the Moderna?

No, at this point in time, as the vaccines come out, they’re going to be used in the population that’s up next for being immunized.

I know that we’ve heard about some of these side effects, can you tell me what they are?

Well, these two vaccines that are becoming available have the typical side effects that we see with every vaccine. The most common side effects are going to be local; they’re going to be at the site where the vaccine is given. You’ll have a sore arm, maybe some swelling, and some redness and maybe a little warmth at that site. And then a smaller percentage of people will have some general symptoms of muscle aches, joint aches, maybe some fatigue, and a small percentage will have fever. It’s really important that people recognize that these are signs that the vaccine is working, that your immune system is recognizing the vaccine and producing an immune response. We also know with these two vaccines, that it’s very likely that you’ll have a greater chance of having symptoms after the second dose than after the first.

What if you do happen to have a bad reaction, what are you supposed to do them?

Well, the bad reaction that you’re talking about is if you have a severe allergic reaction. That’s very likely going to occur at the time you’re getting the vaccine or within minutes following receiving the vaccine. What we’re doing is, when somebody gets the vaccine, we’re watching them for 15 minutes to make sure that doesn’t happen. And if it does, we can respond to it; it can be treated. The major serious side effect, that’s been noted, has been severe allergic reactions. But that’s pretty rare, so far. CDC and its guidelines has recommended that people who have severe anaphylaxis, like reactions to previous IV administrations of medication should not receive the vaccine.

Who is paying for this COVID vaccine?

The federal government has purchased this vaccine for the US population. So, there is no cost to receiving this vaccine.

When people are in their particular group to go get the vaccine, will they have to have a doctor’s note or something? Or do you know how that process is going to work?

Right now, the vaccine is only available through hospitals for hospital personnel. But over time as the vaccines become more available and they’re rolled out, pharmacies may have them; and then public health units may will have them; federally qualified health centers will have them. Then, ultimately, when the major part of the at-risk population is vaccinated, then the vaccine may become available in doctors offices. There will be a different place to get vaccinated based on how this is rolled out.

Is there anything else that you want the public to know, maybe in terms of people who might be apprehensive about getting the vaccine?

People should be paying attention to the scientific data and be aware of what’s been done to produce these vaccines and make sure that they understand that a lot of work has gone into determining how safe these vaccines are, and how effective they are. Even though we have the vaccines quickly, we haven’t really taken any shortcuts in determining how safe and effective these vaccines are. The same protocols that are followed for any vaccine were followed for these vaccines, as well. The public should feel confident that the same safety requirements were met for these vaccines anytime that they will achieve the emergency use authorization from the FDA.

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