New coronavirus vaccines were developed and tested on expedited and unprecedented timelines of less than a year, but that shouldn’t dissuade Carroll County residents from getting the shots when they are eligible.
“Was it rushed? Yes. But it was rushed in a safe way,” said Dr. John Evans, a family medicine physician with McFarland Clinic. “The vaccine is our way to get this terrible virus to go away.”
Evans was among a handful of local doctors and health officials to answer questions about the two coronavirus vaccines being distributed in the county during a virtual town-hall-style meeting on Monday.
Nearly all local healthcare workers eligible for the vaccines under the first phase of the country’s vaccination program have been inoculated with the first of two shots against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The vaccines are made by Moderna and are distributed by the state to county health departments; they first arrived in Carroll County in December. Some of those healthcare workers are receiving their second doses of the vaccine this week.
Walgreens began vaccinating residents and staff at long-term care facilities for older residents last week with a vaccine made by Pfizer.
The vaccines are expected to be available to essential workers and residents who are 75 years or older in early February.
“We were hoping to move a little bit faster, but the supplies of the vaccine have been limited everywhere,” said Nicole Schwering, the county’s public health director.
So far, no one in Carroll County has suffered severe side effects from the vaccines, Schwering said. Minor side effects have included a sore arm where the vaccine is administered, a fever, chills or body aches.
An unspecified number of Carroll County residents volunteered last year to be part of the clinical trials of the vaccines that later were deemed safe for the masses.
“This was patriotic,” said Dr. Kyle Ulveling, a cardiologist with Iowa Heart Center and St. Anthony Regional Hospital’s chief medical officer.
HOW IT WORKS
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a small piece of genetic code that causes human cells to produce a harmless protein of the coronavirus that is attacked by our immune system. The vaccines prime the immune system’s response to the actual virus.
Studies have shown that 94 to 95 percent of people who receive the vaccine will have no symptoms if they later are infected by the virus.
The technology behind the latest vaccines has been decades in the making and has production advantages over older procedures, which typically require labs to grow the viruses and then weaken them or extract parts of them for inoculation.
Instead, the coronavirus vaccines use easily produced messenger ribonucleic acid that, once injected in someone’s body, is consumed by immune system cells that are induced into producing the harmless proteins.
Because the vaccines use genetic code, some have speculated inaccurately that the vaccines can change people’s DNA.
“They cannot change your genome,” Evans said of the vaccines. “They cannot change who you are.”
The state has said new shipments of the vaccine to Carroll County will included at least 100 doses apiece. The county is ready to start inoculating essential workers and people 75 years and older when those new doses arrive with the start of the next phase.
Roughly half of the new doses will go to each group, Schwering said.
Those in the older age group can call county public health at (712) 794-5279 when the next phase starts to learn how they can get a vaccine.
Frontline essential workers, such as police officers, teachers, manufacturing workers and others, should get notification from their employers about vaccine availability. Many of those workers still are hesitant to get the vaccine, according to surveys.
Most Carroll County employees don’t want the vaccine, county leaders have said. And a recent survey of Carroll Community School District employees showed that about two-thirds of them intend to get the vaccine, Superintendent Casey Berlau said Monday.
Widespread vaccination of 70 or 80 percent of residents is important to quell the pandemic, the doctors and other health officials have said.
“When your turn comes up, get the vaccine,” said Dr. Mark Collison, an internal medicine physician with St. Anthony Clinic. “It is much safer than getting COVID. We do see some really serious problems (with the virus). Get the vaccine. It’s safe.”
Those who already have been infected by the coronavirus are encouraged to get vaccinated, too, because it’s unclear how long people are immune after infection.
AFTER THE VACCINE
It’s unclear whether people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus can still spread the virus, so heath experts recommend that everyone continue to wear masks and avoid social gatherings when possible.
“You can’t just say, ‘I can travel all over now,’ ” Collison said. “We’re still going to have to wait on those things until we immunize a lot more people.”
Added Ulveling: “It doesn’t eliminate the risk of transmission. It just significantly reduces it.”
More than 2,500 Carroll County residents have had confirmed cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 34 have died after being infected.