North Atlanta Primary Care

COVID-19 Update Article

Coronavirus Update #18

Posted on December 22, 2020 by Thomas E. Bat, MD, CEO

NAPC remains committed to providing our patients with up to date information and healthcare treatments concerning COVID-19. Our community is amid a post-Thanksgiving surge of COVID-19 cases. Many of these individuals have required hospitalizations. Complications and death from COVID-19 remain top concerns. Last week our healthcare systems received the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine. We expect our office to receive the Moderna COVID vaccine this week. With Christmas and New Year’s holidays on the horizon, the approval of these initial two vaccines is welcome news.

Our physicians and staff are aware of the many questions you have, most principally, “When can I expect to receive a COVID-19 vaccination?” Many variables will ultimately determine the answer to that question. NAPC will provide our patients with all the necessary information to make an informed decision. Vaccine hesitancy is a real concern of the American healthcare system, and it will impact the success of this effort.

NAPC expects to receive its first allotment of vaccines this week. We do not know the exact day of arrival of the number of units assigned to our offices. We will be following CDC and GA DPH guidance in prioritizing individuals for vaccination. We will release information to our patients via the Follow My Health NAPC patient portal, and we will schedule vaccines following these basic guidelines:

  • Phase 1a will include healthcare personnel. This phase will include doctors, nurses and staff at NAPC.  Medical staff in our medical buildings will be allowed.
  • Phase 1b includes nursing home and assisted living residents and staff. NAPC is not participating in senior housing vaccination programs. GA DPH is coordinating this project with CVS and Walgreens.
  • Phase 1b will include essential workers. Elderly patients >75 years of age with significant health conditions will be included in this phase.
  • Phase 1c will include adult patients >65 years of age with comorbidities. Quickly following are adult patients with significant comorbidities.
  • Phase 2 will begin when the vaccine supply is more widely available. This phase will continue to emphasize all the above at-risk groups, but include any adult with priority determined by supply.
  • Phase 3 is defined as a widely distributed vaccine supply with access to all qualifying individuals. Many expect that the CDC/GA DPH may modify these guidelines as conditions warrant.

It is important to note that all vaccinations will be on a scheduled program, and walk-in vaccination clinics will not be available in Phase 1. We will post updates weekly on our FMH patient portal.

 

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

When the FDA approves a vaccine, it means it’s safer to get the vaccine than the actual infection. The approval process requires a thorough review of all testing data to weigh benefits and risks. It involves a whole team of experts, including physicians, pharmacologists, statisticians, and safety experts, just to name a few. Some patients may question whether immunity from a vaccine or “natural” immunity is safer. However, we are still learning the many aspects of COVID-19 illness, such as:

  • Why do some individuals get severe illness and die, while some have no symptoms?
  • Why do some individuals have prolonged systemic symptoms lasting for months?
  • Who can become infected more than once?
  • How long will immunity last?

That’s why it is safer to get immunity through a vaccination program with a known response versus taking your chances with the actual virus. If you remain hesitant about vaccination, please continue to research this topic, and please call us. We will continue to post updates as we continue through this pandemic together.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

As the vaccines’ clinical trials have only completed a few months of observation, we do not know the possible long-term effects yet. That said, experience over many decades has taught us that most side effects from vaccinations are commonly seen early on. Many thousands of individuals worldwide (even millions) have been vaccinated so far. For the most part, the side effects are not serious. They include muscle/joint pain, redness/swelling at the injection site, fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, and headache, which all resolve in 24 hours. These symptoms are an indication that your body is building immunity.

Administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began in the U.K. over two weeks ago. There were two initial reports of allergic reactions. Both occurred in healthcare workers who had a history of severe allergies. Both were quickly treated. In the U.S., we had reports of similar reactions in a very small group of recipients, and they responded to epinephrine (EpiPen). This is reaction is completely expected and should not be a cause of alarm or fear. All patients will be screened for allergies, and all patients will be monitored for 15-30 minutes following injection. Our staff is well trained to handle any allergic reaction that may occur.

What is in the COVID-19 vaccines?

Traditional vaccines work by introducing a weak or inactive germ to trigger an immune response in the body. After this happens, the immune system will remember what to do the next time it sees the same germ. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine works by introducing a weak version of an adenovirus (common cold virus) that has genetic material for a coronavirus protein. After vaccination, the protein is made and triggers the desired immune response to make antibodies to the spike protein. This vaccine is in the final stages of approval.

However, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. Instead of using a weakened virus, they introduce a messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). After vaccination, the mRNA tells the body to make a protein that resembles the coronavirus spike protein. This then triggers the desired immune response, and antibodies are made. It is the presence of these neutralizing antibodies that will provide you with protection from infection. The vaccines do not contain any microchips or tracking devices, contrary to conspiracy theories.

Because none of these vaccines use live viruses, you can rest assured that they will not give you COVID-19. And they will not alter your DNA. mRNA gives instructions for making proteins; it does not interact with your DNA.

Will the vaccine be mandatory?

There is no indication that vaccination would be mandated at a federal level. However, states and employers have the authority to make this decision. Some people may be required to get vaccinated before returning to work, school, or college. But a mandate is not likely anytime soon.

Will there be a cost for the COVID-19 vaccine?

There will be no charge for the COVID-19 vaccine or delivery. If you receive the injection as part of a routine office visit or physical, your insurance provider will determine if there is a co-pay at the time of service.

Do pregnancy and breastfeeding interfere with vaccination?

Data is not yet available to assess the impact on pregnant or lactating women. The GA DPH has stated that there is NO contraindication in vaccinating pregnant/lactating patients. We will continue to monitor data and CDC guidelines as they evolve.

If I have had COVID-19, should I get a vaccine?

There is not enough available information to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. This is called “natural” immunity. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to understand this better. Until we have more information, the CDC does not have a specific recommendation on whether or not people who had COVID-19 should receive a vaccine.

Can people with an allergy to eggs receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

YES. Neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines contain eggs. Only people with a known severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any component of the vaccine should not receive it.

Do individuals need to continue to wear a mask and social distance after my COVID-19 vaccine?

YES. While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic. Continue the 3 Ws: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, and Watch your social distance. We must all work to stop the spread of COVID. Experts will continue to study the effects of the vaccination process and determine how many people must achieve herd immunity.

Final Thoughts:

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to our patients, friends, and community leaders who have supported NAPC. We have endured nearly a year of pandemic challenges, stress, anxiety and lifestyle changes. The end game for COVID-19 is a successful vaccination program. We have had two successful vaccines approved this month, and I suspect that other vaccine options will quickly follow as their clinical trials conclude. Our NAPC goal is to have our high-risk patients vaccinated as soon as possible. Our NAPC goal and commitment is to convince 100% of our patients that getting vaccinated is the right thing to do. Thank you for being a part of our healthcare team.

Our country has historically led the way in crushing smallpox, polio and measles. We will do it again with COVID-19. As the holidays are upon us, our gift will be the return to normalcy and the ability to spend time with our family, friends and co-workers. Please stay safe during the holiday season. It is within our hands to shape the future. We are all in this together. #napcstrong.

Respectfully,

Thomas E. Bat, MD

North Atlanta Primary Care, PC

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