by Jen Reed
We believe our job here at the local newspaper is bring you up-to-date information as well as reliable information as it comes into our office. We work for the public and we felt it was our duty to bring you information on the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine from healthcare professionals you know and trust.
It was with that thought we made the decision to seek advice from our very own Dr. Joel A. Wells with the Wayne County Hospital and Clinic System and Wayne County Public Health Administrator Shelley Bickel. Both have been very involved in providing information to the community since the beginning of the COVID pandemic and with their many years of healthcare experience, we felt it best to ask them the questions many are searching for answers on.
On Dec. 16 we held our first-ever live stream question and answers event where we put Dr. Wells and Bickel in the hot seats. We opened up our viewing online for anyone watching to ask questions for them to answer. While we know many are without the ability to view online events like this, we wanted to provide answers to these questions in our paper in print as well for those readers.
How safe is the COVID vaccine given the timeframe it came out in and are there other vaccines that have been released in comparable time frames that should be noted?
“What we have done with getting these vaccines to the public is unprecedented,” began Dr. Wells. “So no, there are no other vaccines that have been developed this quickly. This is a modern miracle of science to see it done with this speed. Studies started back in February for the Moderna vaccine. Moderna vaccine is the first one we will have available to us in Wayne County and be distributed by the public health department and other healthcare facilities.”
“Is it safe, no corners were cut in determining the safety,” Dr. Wells continued. “These vaccines still went through phase one, two and three trials which are all set up to determine safety of the vaccine. Safety has to be proved to move through these trials and get FDA approval. I think it is important to note the approval FDA is giving these two vaccines coming on the market is called emergency use authorization. That means the studies have been done, they have been done in the same fashion of other vaccines that have been studied, but we are going to go straight into a mass distribution phase because there is an emergency that is called a COVID-19 pandemic.”
“I think we have to keep that in mind,” Dr. Wells stated. “We’re at the height of this pandemic right now. It’s unprecedented in how fast it was developed but safety so far in all the trials has been excellent. There were no life threatening, serious reactions in the thousands of doses that were given and that is exactly how all vaccines start out.”
What do you say to those concerned about possible long-term side effects?
“I understand the concern of getting vaccinations and safety and long-term side effects,” Dr. Wells began. “That’s not a new concern with any vaccine. That was a concern at the turn of the century with the smallpox vaccine. That was a concern with the polio vaccine. Vaccination programs have a good record of being safe and effective. There are certainly are things that have happened that would make people worry about the safety. So long-term side effects, the pandemic has only been in existence for 10 months, the studies have been going on for less than that. It will take years to determine long-term side effects, but looking at other vaccine programs there really hasn’t been any truly long-term side effects and I don’t think we anticipate any from these.”
“It will take some time to say without a doubt that there can’t be any long-term consequences,” Dr. Wells added. “The short term consequences of not getting vaccinated is what concerns us right now.”
What will the vaccine cost and does insurance cover this?
“Right now the vaccine will be free to everybody in America, free to everyone in Wayne County and anyone that comes to our county to get vaccinated, so there will be no cost,” said Bickel. “Some of the providers may charge due to administration costs, but we at public health are not going to do that at this time. Everybody can get it no matter your income level.”
You have spoken about successful vaccination campaigns from the past, what is needed from the community for the COVID vaccine to be successful, especially at our local level?
“A lot of the places I go to talk I talk about a vaccination program,” said Dr. Wells. “First off we have to have a goal like we do with COVID. We are trying to end the pandemic. We are trying to greatly reduce the level of COVID-19 that is in the community that can be spread and eventually snuff it out or at least make it so we can go back to normal lives. No more pandemic.”
“If we get a box of 1,000 vaccines here in Wayne County and it isn’t distributed, that is not a program,” Dr. Wells continued. “That’s just a bunch of vaccines in a box is all it is. A vaccine program is actually people getting the shot and being aware of why they are getting it and having enough people do it that it actually effectively reduces the disease that we are vaccinating for.”
What are the ages the vaccine will be available for? Are children excluded from this vaccine being available?
“Right now with the two vaccines, we have Pfizer and we have Moderna that hopefully will be approved tomorrow,” began Bickel. “At this time we can vaccinate 16 and older. The other vaccinations coming out from different companies, I don’t know information on those yet.”
When is Wayne County going to be receiving their first doses of the vaccine to distribute and how will that flow work? Who will receive it first?
“In the State of Iowa, every county has a public health and the flow of the vaccine originates with public health,” Bickel answered. “In each county, everyone had to sign up to be approved to be a provider. In Wayne County right now we have public health, Wayne County Hospital and Clinic, Your Neighborhood Pharmacy and Hy-Vee Pharmacy I believe is getting approved. There are over 1,500 providers in the State of Iowa that are signed up to give the vaccine and I’ve been told it’s the most in the nation.”
“How it works is we get an alert through our health alert system each week where we are told how many doses we can get, so we can’t just request 1,000 doses,” Bickel said. “We have been told we are going to get the Moderna shots next week [week of Dec. 21]. We have been allocated 200 doses to be shipped out probably Sunday [Dec. 20] night once it’s approved and hopefully have it by Tuesday next week [Dec. 22].”
“I have allocated 100 doses to Wayne County Hospital and 100 doses to Wayne County Public Health,” Bickel continued. “The first phase, there’s different phases and we have to follow what the State of Iowa and Department of Health tells us to is healthcare workers and long-term care facilities. Wayne County Hospital will be immunizing with the first dose to all the healthcare workers that want to get it. Public health will be immunizing our public health staff, our homemaker’s staff, the dental office, and Murphy Place Assisted Living. The next week I should get an alert for the next set of doses I will receive and I will keep doing each phase as it comes along.”
Can somebody from a neighboring county receive a vaccination through us or we are on the state line even a neighboring state?
“Yes,” said Bickel. “From what I understand we cannot turn anybody away. So if somebody comes from neighboring counties in Mercer or Putnam, Decatur or Lucas, perhaps they are visiting mom or dad, we can do it. They would have to fill out a consent form and we will input it into a database system. Every single dose is tracked and we are not to hold back doses.”
With the vaccine being made available will the masks go away or will we still need to wear them?
“This goes back to how we fight a pandemic,” answered Dr. Wells. “Masks will not go away just because we’ve been vaccinated. So if you vaccinate yourself, you should still wear a mask and if a lot of us are vaccinated we will still all want to wear our masks to fight the pandemic and we will do that until the pandemic is gone.”
“Every little tool we have had to fight this pandemic is going to be necessary to cause it to end,” Dr. Wells said. “We’re going to have to continue to wash our hands, wear our masks, socially distance and now vaccinate which I think will greatly hasten the end of this but we will still have to do all of those things.”
When will those with underlying health conditions be able to get the vaccine?
“I know the elderly will be right up there after we get all the essential workers done, so anyone 55 or older with underlying health conditions they are going to be right up there,” said Bickel. “If there is anyone in our county or surrounding counties, you can call Wayne County Public Health (641) 872-1167 and get on our waiting list. We are doing a waiting list because I don’t think I’m going to get 1,000 doses in every week. It’s going to be smaller numbers. I’m hoping it’s at least 100 so we can keep vaccinating 100 people every week.”
We do have more to bring you from this question and answer event with Dr. Wells and Bickel that we will continue to share with our readers. In the meantime, anyone with questions needing answers immediately, we direct you to contact the public health office. The live video will remain on our Facebook page as well for anyone wishing to view it.