By Colleen Lehmann,
Public Health Community Liaison
Douglas County Health Dept.
After nine months of dealing with COVID-19 and its related burdens, there is at long last a glimmer of good news on the pandemic front. Several COVID vaccines are poised for approval by the CDC, with Pfizer/BioNTech’s version the frontrunner, green-lighted over the weekend. This means vaccine immunization in the United States is officially beginning, though a tiered approach will be taken as availability will be limited initially.
For this same reason, the Illinois counties in which the vaccine is first distributed are being prioritized based on death rates per capita, with 50 counties at the top of the list. Douglas—in a good news/bad news scenario—is not among those 50 counties.
Douglas County Health Department officials continue to await word of its initial vaccine allotment, and have been reaching out to those targeted populations to be included in first-wave immunization. A community survey is being developed, and will soon be posted on the DCHD Facebook page. Anyone interested in getting a vaccine can complete the survey, and in the event there is surplus vaccine available after first-wave recipients have been immunized, DCHD will contact qualifying survey respondents to offer vaccination. It should be noted, IF that scenario happens, there will likely be very short notice.
Healthcare workers, first responders, and residents of long-term care facilities will be given priority in the first-wave vaccine immunization. An emphasis on equity—including demographics typically underserved for medical care and whose populations have been especially hard hit by the virus—is a factor in the equation.
Candidates for subsequent waves are likely to be people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions, people aged 65 or older, and other congregate populations, though state officials continue to fine-tune these lists.
For this first wave of vaccine dosages, the distribution process will go as follows:
*Vaccine, packed in dry ice in specially designed containers dubbed “pizza boxes,” arrives at regional warehouse facility. It is processed for distribution to regional hospital coordinating centers (RHCC).
*Vaccine is transported to RHCC, with local health departments (LHD) notified of its imminent arrival.
*LHD picks up allocated vaccine supply from RHCC and brings back to home community. Immunization protocols will then begin immediately, due to temperature control requirements of vaccine.
About Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
Following a rigorous trial involving approximately 44,000 people, Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID vaccine is now in transit for use throughout the country. It is a two-dose regimen, administered 21 days apart. This is an mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine – a new technology that does NOT utilize a live virus but rather, uses the patient’s own cells to manufacture a particular coronavirus protein. That single protein activates an immune response if it encounters a real coronavirus infection.
The vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, with a six-month shelf life at this temperature. Once the vaccine is thawed it cannot be refrozen, and has a five-day window in which the undiluted vials can be kept refrigerated. Once diluted, that window narrows to five hours.
Side effects of the vaccine, while reportedly rare, could include injection site pain, fatigue, fever, and chills. If you have a history of chronic, severe allergies, it is suggested you consult with your medical provider regarding immunization. As with most vaccines, it is recommended that recipients not be experiencing moderate or severe acute illness at time of immunization.
About Moderna vaccine
Pending its imminent approval, the Moderna vaccine is expected to start being shipped to Illinois the week of Christmas, and will be targeted for distribution by local health departments and hospitals. It is a two-dose regimen, with a 28-day span between injections. It, too, is an mRNA model that underwent rigorous testing, with over 30,000 participants.
Moderna’s vaccine requires storage at -20 degrees Celsius, which is regular freezer temperature, but can be kept refrigerated up to one month. Another plus, it can be kept at room temperature up to 12 hours, which will be helpful if vaccine administration is taking place in an off-site field setting.
Like Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s vaccine showed rare instances of reported side effects, and those included muscle aches, headaches, and injection site pain.
Please note that the vaccine products are not intended to be interchangeable, meaning if your first dose is the Pfizer vaccine, then your second dose has to be the Pfizer product as well. The same holds true of Moderna’s offering.
As more information regarding Douglas County vaccine supply and other information becomes available, it will be posted on DCHD social media sites.