CHICAGO (WLS) — Now that scientists have developed COVID-19 vaccines, experts are turning their attention to practical and difficult questions about access, safety and tracking vaccination success.
The I-Team has answers to five top questions about this next phase in fighting the pandemic.
Question #1: When will you get the vaccine?
The first wave of millions of vaccine vials have left the Pfizer headquarters and are either delivered or on their way to every state. It’s now up to public health officials to execute vaccine plans.
“As these vaccines starts to roll out some states are going to progress much faster,” said Josh Michaud, the Associate Director of Global Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In Illinois, health care workers will be first to get the vaccine. Then, it’s likely to go to first responders and other essential front-line workers.
“The principles of allocation are: how do we do this equitably by your risk your individual profile, where you live, as well as other identifiers your race, your ethnicity, and your vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of Vaccine Delivery at Ariadne Labs.
The federal government is distributing the first vaccine doses across the country by population. But from there, states and large cities begin to make their own decisions based largely on federal framework.
Experts say it’ll likely be late spring before the vaccine begins to reach the general healthy population.
“It’s really hard to predict how this will all come out in the end. And what your state does might be different from what your neighboring state does,” explained Michaud.
Question #2: How do we know it’s safe?
Federal health officials and drug manufacturers say no corners were cut and the vaccines are based on sound science and data.
An FDA analysis of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness on people aged 16 and older found “no specific safety concerns.”
Mild to moderate side effects can include nausea, body aches, headaches and chills.
CDC officials said the symptoms are a sign the vaccine is working to rev up the body’s immune response and are harmless.
Chicago area doctors who spoke with the I-Team are recommending the shots.
“We do not believe there are any serious side effects with the vaccine the benefit of getting the vaccine is so important, it’s much worse to get COVID19 than to get a vaccine,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, the Medical Director of Infectious Disease at Advocate Aurora Health.
The head of Infection Prevention at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital agreed, saying: “I think everyone should get the vaccine and it should go to the patients the patients at are at higher risk first but this is something we are going to have to do all because this virus is affecting everybody.”
Question #3: Who could be excluded?
The FDA is instructing providers not to give the vaccine to those with a known history of severe allergic reactions to any of its ingredients.
It is not currently recommended for children under 16 – and while the FDA’s guidance did not preclude offering the vaccine to pregnant women, experts say there isn’t enough information to assess the risks versus benefits.
Dr. Gregory Huhn, an Infectious Disease Expert at Cook County Health and the lead coordinator for the vaccine’s distribution among CCH’s healthcare employees, explained further:
“So far there does not seem to be any harm from the vaccine itself, as safety signal as we call it. But, the studies did not recruit pregnant women and so we will not have that information and I believe the CDC recommendation would be if you’re a pregnant woman then discuss the benefits with your healthcare provider -if you should receive the vaccine.”
Question #4: If you’ve already had COVID-19, can you skip the vaccine?
Dr. Citronberg and Dr. Huhn believe that even if you’ve had the virus, you should still consider getting the shot.
“Within a 3 month period ..patients that have had COVID may have a level of protection, but we don’t know the absolute level of protection. So the short answer is, those patients who have had COVID, they should still be eligible for the vaccine,” said Citronberg. “We haven’t seen all the data yet. Eventually people who have had COVID will be getting the vaccine, they are probably a lower priority than people who have not yet had the disease, but even if you’ve had it you will be eligible for the vaccine.”
Question #5: When will we know if the vaccine is successful?
Dr. Manrique said: “I think that once we reach that 70% of the population receiving the vaccine when we will get to that herd immunity ..protection.”
Individuals are expected to get some level of protection within a couple weeks after the first shot. Full protection many not happen until a couple weeks after the second shot.
A large amount of the US population needs to be vaccinated to reach what’s called herd immunity -where the overall amount of the virus is lowered enough to stop the spread.
“It’ll take a good six months, but by June of next year we expect that everybody in this country who wants a vaccine will be able to receive one,” said Citronberg.
But vaccination is not a ticket to normal. Medical experts say masks and social distancing will still be necessary until an all-clear.
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