First 500 doses of COVID vaccine bound for BV, but it’s not enough
Public health officials are beginning to get word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed about arrival of long-awaited coronavirus vaccine - which will far fall short of need.
Buena Vista County Public Health was told this week that its first allocation after the vaccine is approved will be 500 doses.
That isn’t even enough to fully serve the first group in line to receive vaccine - front line health care workers. There are about 775 of those people in the county, according to BV Public Health Director Pam Bogue. “A whole lot of them are nurses, but this also includes people such as dentists and mental health counselors.”
The vaccine requires a second booster shot four weeks after the first injection to be fully effective. Experts suggest that one shot provides some protection - about 52 percent effective compared to up to 95 percent after the booster. Local health officials are being told not to hold any vaccine back for the booster shots for those being served in the early part of vaccination - they will have to depend on the system delivering enough a few weeks later to give those second shots and prevent the first vaccinations from being wasted.
A local team has been assembled to plan for the vaccination process - consisting of two members each from the county public health office, Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, United Community Health Center and UnityPoint clinics.
The three nursing home facilities in the county, also in line for some of the first vaccination under a national priorities plan, have all signed up for a federal program working with large pharmacy chains. Their vaccine will be distributed directly to pharmacies and on to the care facilities, which Bogue said will lighten a load on health providers. Vaccine should hit the local long-term care facilities starting by the end of the month. “If something falls through with the fed program, we would be responsible for it,” she said.
Almost all medical providers in the county have signed up to give vaccinations, including the hospital, UCHC, clinics and the public health office. Walgreens is among pharmacy chains that will administer vaccine as well.
The county will not be receiving the Pfizer vaccine that requires ultra-cold storage. The state has so far identified 15 to 20 major health care institutions to use that vaccine, with an ultra-cold storage freezer on site required, Bogue said. That vaccine was expected to be approved for emergency use by a Food and Drug Administration panel late this week. Pfizer indicated Thursday that it could begin trucking out vaccine within 24 hours after approval.
The vaccine to be used locally comes from Moderna, if final FDA approval is given. Its efficacy is estimated at 94.1 percent in preventing COVID. It does not require ultra-cold storage. Bogue anticipates the approval on the 17th, which would allow the first doses to arrive in BV County on the week of Christmas. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the time for the booster is four weeks later rather than three.
Bogue said health and medical agencies in the region are working on ways to remind people to get the second shot.
Federal officials estimate about 40 million vaccines will be available by the end of the month if both Moderna and Pfizer get authorization - enough to vaccinate only 20 million out of the country’s 328 million people with the necessary two doses.
While disappointment about the lack of initial supply is resounding around the country, Bogue prefers the syringe half full approach. “They are going to get some to everybody on the first round. Is it enough to reach all the people? no. But at least we will have a start, and we’ll have that start by the end of the year.”
A few federal officials have suggested that getting the vaccine when the supply reaches the general public in 2021 should be mandatory, though President-elect Joe Biden said recently that no mandate should come from the federal level.
Bogue suggests that more likely, employers could require it of their workers. “Some health care facilities mandate that their employees have flu shots every year, for example,” she said.
However, one survey indicates that 40 percent of Americans are opposed to getting the COVID vaccine, with rates higher among people of color.
“People are very cautious about it. We have families here now who refuse to give their kids vaccinations because they are suspicious of vaccine.” Bogue also notes that the short time span in which COVID vaccine was created has raised worries with some.
“To be honest, there are some side effects, she added, addressing another concern. “It is a live vaccine. In essence it is giving you a small amount of COVID to develop an immune reaction. There is a potential for a small amount of discomfort, but it is important that we get as many people as we can convinced to use the vaccine when we have it for the general public, hopefully as early as March.”
Side effects will be mild, Mayo Clinic infectious disease expert Dr. Abinash Virk said this week. In trials they have occurred within 24 hours of the second dose and went away in a week or less. “The most common are fatigue, headaches and body aches,” she said.
Doctors caution that they don’t yet know how long vaccine protection may last, or if anyone is immune to it.
Mayo doesn’t expect to see a decrease in hospitalizations until at least May. “In order to stop transmission, we have to have widespread immunity,” a spokesperson said.
Locally, Buena Vista County has seen 3,300 cases since the pandemic began, 135 new cases in the past week, and 17 COVID deaths. As of yesterday, there were 150 COVID patients in northwest Iowa hospitals, and 10 nursing homes in Buena Vista and surrounding counties were reporting outbreaks.
While the totals continue to rise in the county, the rate of increase has gone down somewhat over the past three weeks, as have hospitalizations in northwest Iowa. “Looking at the numbers, the high point for everything looks like it was November 17, and it’s been down since then,” Bogue said.
The impact of potential cases from inadvisable Thanksgiving gatherings could still be felt in the next week, health leaders say, and they advise against gatherings in excess of the immediate family for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.
“It is very, very contagious, and it doesn’t take being in the vicinity of a person with the virus for very long,” Bogue says. The fact that many carrying the virus are asymptomatic, or may be within the period of a couple of days before symptoms may show up, make it difficult to prevent COVID from passing.
“People should continue to be cautious and do all those protective things we’ve talked about for months,” Bogue said.
Meanwhile, the masks, hand washing and distancing may be paying a side benefit, as she said there is very little flu going around compared to past years at this time, locally and globally.