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What you need to know about rollout of COVID vaccines

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of January 7, 2021)

Confused, or even frustrated about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout? You are not alone.

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it became the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s job to educate healthcare workers about every aspect of the vaccines – from a rundown of what’s in them and how they work, to practical handling instructions, side-effect tracking and follow-up care.

In addition to the CDC’s online training courses for those administering the two vaccines, the agency holds Zoom seminars and fields questions from doctors, nurses and caregivers from all over the country – and even these professionals have lots and lots of questions. Vero Beach 32963 staffers have been taking these online training courses and listening in to the Zoom seminars to learn what our readers need to know.

Who can and should get the vaccine? Right now, people age 65 and older can get the vaccine – if you can score an appointment – plus frontline healthcare workers are also being vaccinated in the first phase of the vaccine rollout. Those are the two sets of populations at the core of the effort right now.

Neither vaccine has been officially approved for pregnant or lactating women, because it was not specifically tested on those groups. A handful of women enrolled in the clinical trials got pregnant during the trials, but their babies have not been born yet. Pregnant women wanting to be vaccinated should consult their obstetrician.

Other than a few special cases where the vaccine was tested on people with AIDS and hepatitis, neither vaccine has been tested on people with autoimmune conditions. So people with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other conditions that affect immune function, or people with compromised immune systems due to medical treatment, should talk to their doctor.

The Pfizer vaccine has been approved on an emergency-use basis for people age 16 and older, the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older. So, unless your child’s pediatrician specifically orders a minor to get a COVID-19 vaccination, it’s for adults and older teens only at this point. That’s because the clinical trials have not collected enough data yet on the vaccine’s effects on kids. Clinical trials involving younger volunteers are underway but won’t be completed for several months.

What if you have COVID-19 now or have recently recovered? The CDC advises that re-infection within 90 days is almost unheard of, so it’s best to wait 90 days after you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 to get the first dose of any of the vaccines.

What if you just had your flu shot? Or pneumonia shot? Or shingles vaccination? The CDC says you must wait 14 days between any other vaccination and getting the COVID-19 shot. That means waiting 14 days before the COVID shot after a prior vaccination and 14 days after the COVID shot before you can get any other vaccine.

Do you have to be a Florida resident to get the vaccine? No. State emergency officials have stated that Florida residency is not required to get the vaccine in Florida, so seasonal residents and visitors who meet the age criteria are eligible.

What if you have bad allergies to medicines or food or to something else? There’s been a lot of talk about a tiny number of serious reactions to the COVID vaccine, but these are extremely rare. Best advice is to ask your doctor before getting the COVID-19 shot, but the only people the CDC says should not get the shot are people who got the first dose already and had a severe reaction, or people who are allergic to a chemical called Polyethylene Glycol, which is commonly found in vaccines and some laxatives such as those used to prepare for a colonoscopy.

The vaccine is thawed to room temperature and diluted while still in the vial with a pure saline solution that is shipped to the vaccine site specifically for that purpose. The CDC says that saline does not contain any preservatives that might cause allergic reactions in people who can’t use saline with preservatives.

Each vial contains multiple doses, so the vaccine administrator will draw several doses of the diluted vaccine out of each vial, using a brand-new hypodermic needle for each patient. The shot is given in the upper arm near the shoulder.

People who are allergic to Polyethylene Glycol should not get the vaccine. Others must weigh the risks versus the benefits of getting the vaccine. Those risks will be explained by healthcare personnel, and you will be asked a series of questions about prior allergic reactions before receiving the vaccine. Your answers will determine what happens from there.

You should also tell the vaccine provider if you have a fever, if you have any sort of bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinner, if you are immunocompromised, pregnant, breastfeeding, or if you’ve received another COVID-19 vaccine.

Everyone must stick around the vaccine administration site for at least 15 minutes after getting the shot to make sure medical help is on-hand in case a reaction occurs. People who previously have had severe allergic reactions will typically be asked to stay for 30 minutes, just to be safe.

People who are prone to passing out after getting a shot (called Vasovagal Syncope) also might be asked to stay for 30 minutes to make sure they don’t pass out while driving home. It also might be best to have someone drive you to get the vaccine if you have severe allergic reactions.

You must wear a mask or face covering to the vaccine site, and the person giving you the vaccine will also be wearing a mask. Don’t be alarmed if they are also wearing a face shield and gloves, as this protective equipment is recommended by the CDC. They should change gloves and wash their hands between each administration of the vaccine.

After the shot, you will be handed a vaccination card stating the date you were vaccinated, which vaccine you received, and other information about the lot and batch of the vial your dose of the vaccine was taken from. Be sure to obtain and keep this card, as it will also list the date that you must come back for your second dose. For the Pfizer vaccine, you will be scheduled to come back in 21 days. For the Moderna vaccine, the second dose will be due in 28 days.

Some countries, including the United Kingdom, have decided to postpone the second dose for three months, in hopes of vaccinating more people more quickly, and extending the immunity after the second dose. There is talk about doing that in the U.S. but as of press time, that is not the guidance from the FDA and CDC.

While you’re sitting around for 15 or 30 minutes, you’ll have some reading material. Each person receiving the vaccine will be given a “fact sheet” on the vaccine they are receiving.

You will also be given information on the CDC’s tracking system to report how you’re doing after vaccination and any side effects. The V-Safe system was designed specifically for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. You can download the smartphone application in the Apple or Google app store on your phone or go to

Your participation in V-Safe is important as it gives the CDC real-time data on what kind of side effects people across the country are experiencing.

Typical side effects from either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine are pain, swelling or tenderness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea, vomiting and fever.

Side effects that require medical attention include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or throat, a fast heartbeat, a bad rash all over your body, dizziness and weakness.

You might have heard about other vaccines coming down the road, such as the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine just approved for emergency use in the U.K. and in India. Should you wait for one of those vaccines?

At this point, the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been widely tested on people 65 and older, so the data on how effective it is for seniors has not been presented. Last week, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who heads up Operation Warp Speed, said he expects the AstraZeneca vaccine to be up for emergency approval in April.  Johnson & Johnson is expected to present its clinical trial data to the FDA in late January for possible emergency use approval in February.

Those two vaccines can be stored in a regular refrigerator so they can be widely distributed in rural areas and used at clinics, medical offices and pharmacies that do not have extreme cold-storage capacities.

Federal officials expect to have enough vaccine to begin supplying Walgreens and CVS pharmacies with the Moderna vaccine sometime in January, but it’s unknown if Vero Beach-area pharmacies will offer the vaccine.

Currently, the Indian River Health Department and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital are the two distributors of vaccine to the general public here, outside of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

To be alerted when the Health Department has vaccine appointments open, go to the Indian River County government website and subscribe to the Alert Indian River emergency alert system. The Health Department is using this system – which has been in place for years to distribute alerts about hurricane warnings, wildfires and other public safety notices – to let locals know how and when to book an appointment to get the vaccine.