The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Gregory County. Healthcare workers began receiving their first dose at the end of December.
There are two different vaccines that are available for use in the United States at this time. Others are in different phases of trials, so we may see more options become available.
“The two companies are Pfizer and Moderna. Both are mRNA based vaccines, so they use the same technology,” explains Dr. Megan Smith of Community Memorial Hospital in Burke.
The Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16 and older, and Moderna for 18 and older. The Pfizer option has to be stored and transported at very cold temperatures, “so it is likely that most of us in rural areas will have access to the Moderna vaccine, as that is easier to transport and store,” Dr. Smith comments.
It is difficult to say how this will roll out when it comes to the general population. “I am hopeful that with the department of health allocating a distribution center/site for each county, that will make it go more smoothly,” Dr. Smith comments. “My understanding is that vaccine allocation will occur based on population, and we will get a percentage of vaccine that we need, so I don’t think we (our County) will be overlooked.”
There has been a lot of discussion on the vaccine, how quickly it came about, and the amount of US citizens who are unsure it is safe.
“The vaccine was developed and went through trials like all medications and vaccinations,” Dr. Smith explains. “Part of what sped this process up is that companies started to produce the vaccine so that it would be available for use right away if it was approved.”
“mRNA has been studied since the 1990s, so this is also not a sudden, new scientific finding,” she adds.
When other viruses came about, like the Zika virus, scientists were studying mRNA vaccine options then. Dr. Smith explains, “Due to the pandemic and the massive toll this virus has taken, that increased the rigor that it was studied.”
Information from Dr. Smith on mRNA: These are a new type of vaccine strategy. Instead of using a killed vaccine or weakened vaccine, these vaccines use a small segment of protein code (messenger RNA). This code then is recognized by our body’s cells, which will produce antibodies to that part of the protein. Then, if the COVID virus comes into our body, our cells will be able to recognize the protein spikes and use antibodies made to fight it off. The mRNA does not incorporate into our own cell’s DNA. They do not enter our cells nucleus, which is where our own DNA lives. After our own cells copy the code from the mRNA, our cells will break down that mRNA and it will be gone. It is only used as a messenger to give our body the code to the proteins.
The COVID vaccines do not contain egg products, preservatives, or latex. If you have had a strong allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a vaccine before, you will need to be monitored longer after getting this vaccine. The most common side effects are arm soreness, mild body aches, and potentially a fever. You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol) if needed. It is a two dose vaccine, your second shot will be timed around 4 weeks after the first dose.
“You should get both shots, as this is how the vaccine was studied. Even after you get your vaccine, it is about 14 days after the 2nd shot that you will have some antibodies and immunity,” Dr. Smith explains.
“While vaccination is important, we will still need to practice social distancing in public, staying 6 feet from others, and mask wearing,” she adds. “We do not know at this time what percentage of the population we need to vaccinate to reach herd immunity. It is also still unknown if you can still transmit the virus to others once you are vaccinated (even if you aren’t sick), so it’s important to mask and distance yet.”
If you have had COVID, you should still get the vaccine. “We do not know how long “natural” immunity from infection lasts, as there are people who are getting reinfected after 90 days post-illness. It is not known yet if this will be a one time vaccine, or if it will need to be repeated. That is being studied even as we start to vaccinate people.”
The federal government will distribute the vaccine to each state, but it is then up to the state’s department of health to set up the vaccination process. For information on South Dakota’s process, visit the Department of Health COVID site, https://doh.sd.gov/COVID/, locate the “Vaccination Information” for the latest updates of this process.
For questions specific to your own medical conditions or concerns about the vaccine for yourself, call your personal health care provider.