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WCPH asks for continued vigilance with first vaccine doses

General public could see vaccines in March or April

-Submitted photo
Frontline healthcare workers this week received some of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as part of the state's strategy to distribute vaccines in limited supply.

As Webster County Public Health ations the first precious shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the public is urged not to abandon the precautions while Iowa remains on high alert with recent waves of cases.

“While we celebrate the first shipment of vaccine, we are many months away from being able to offer the vaccine to the public,” said Kelli Bloomquist, public information officer. “We must remain vigilant in practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and staying home while sick. The vaccine is a historic scientific milestone, but we cannot forget that there is much that we can still do to help keep ourselves, our families and our neighbors safe and healthy.”

Webster County began allocating some of the approximately 26,000 doses expected for Iowa this week. By the end of the month, Iowa Department of Public Health officials expect 138,300 doses — enough to vaccinate over 69,000 people this month, with two doses required per person, if a reserve is held back for second doses.

Those estimates included the Moderna vaccine, which received Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency use on Friday. Moderna is expected to deliver over 73,000 doses to Iowa in the coming weeks, slightly more than half of the total supply for December.

WCPH could not provide the exact number of doses shipped to the county by press time Friday, saying planning estimates are in flux.

But even with 90 to 95% efficacy rates showing promise, thanks to groundbreaking technology, Webster County should temper its expectations.

“Vaccines, in general, aren’t necessarily designed to prevent infection,” said Dr. Megan Srinivas, infectious disease physician and public health researcher on faculty at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine. “They are designed to significantly reduce the severity of symptoms, both short and long-term, often resulting in people having no symptoms if they do come in contact with a virus.”

Srinivas, a former doctor at Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, was involved in research for COVID-19 vaccine trials at the University of North Carolina.

The first shipment was allocated to UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, where it was given to health care workers who have been fighting on the frontlines since March. Distribution is controlled through the Infectious Disease Advisory Council (IDAC) on Immunization Practices, which has prioritized health care personnel and long-term care residents in the current Phase 1a.

“We hope to be able to have vaccine clinics available for the general public in March or April, but this depends on the allotments of vaccine that are available,” Bloomquist said.

The IDAC has outlined a three-phase approach to distribution, with the first focused on critical populations defined as critical workers and those at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

“These priority recommendations and subsets must also recognize the importance of treating individuals fairly and promoting social equity, by addressing racial and ethnic disparities in COVID mortality and by recognizing the contributions of critical infrastructure workers,” the council said in a Dec. 4 statement.

Though development and authorization of the vaccines occurred in record time, leading some to be skeptical of its efficacy and safety, the bodies tasked with making evaluations on vaccines have put the scientific data through all the rigorous scrutiny that Americans rely on for their other vaccines.

With COVID-19 vaccines, a minimum of two months of data from late-stage trials were required by the FDA. Vaccine clinical trials are conducted in three phases. The third and final stage involves tens of thousands of healthy volunteers spanning a variety of backgrounds, demographics and health conditions.

With new vaccines, Srinivas said researchers anticipate that some will be asymptomatic carriers of the virus, even if vaccinated.

“However, we hope that the period and amount of contagiousness is less as a vaccinated carrier, though we don’t have data on that, yet,” Srinivas said.

In addition to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently approved for emergency use, a third could be in the works soon. The Iowa Clinic is currently participating in third-phase trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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