Vaccine clinics this week; COVID deaths added

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For the first time in roughly three weeks, Monroe County has scheduled vaccine clinics for residents to get their first shot after its supply increased.

Following a first-dose clinic Monday, Monroe County added a new clinic for Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. This is for individuals who are ages 65 and older, work in health care, education or public works or are ages 16-64 with high-risk, pre-existing conditions. It is only for Monroe County residents. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be administered.

Those who received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Feb. 17 can also get their second dose on Tuesday.

Due to rain in the forecast, the county also rescheduled Thursday’s clinic for Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The same groups apply. The Moderna vaccine will be given at Wednesday’s clinic.

Those who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on or before Feb. 10 can also get their second dose Wednesday.

People must bring proof of age and Monroe County residency or an ID badge or recent pay stub, along with a completed consent form. There will be consent forms available at the fairgrounds.

On Monday, individuals ages 65 and older, health care workers and educators got the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. The health department lowered the minimum age for Monday’s clinic from 70 to 65 the morning of the event, then allowed those ages 16-64 with pre-existing conditions to get the shots as well.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said the county got about 1,400 extra doses after a computer error at the state level doubled the shipment of second doses to some counties, which is why two first-dose clinics can be held.

The vaccine supply is projected to increase to 500 and 700 doses in the next two weeks, respectively. 

These vaccination clinics come as more deaths have been added to Monroe County’s total.

On Monday, the death of a man in his 90s who was a resident of Cedarhurst in Waterloo was reported.

On Sunday, the death of a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s who were both residents of Cedarhurst in Waterloo were reported.

On Saturday, the death of a woman in her 70s not associated with long-term care was reported.

On Thursday, Wagner reported the death of a man in his 80s. He said that person died in October but his death was only being recorded here now because he lived at Integrity Healthcare of Columbia and was moved to another facility shortly before his death.

That puts the county’s death toll at 98. Per the Illinois Department of Public Health, there have now been three deaths at Cedarhusrt of Waterloo, 11 at Garden Place Senior Living in Columbia, three at Garden Place Senior Living in Waterloo, 12 at Integrity Healthcare of Columbia, 25 at Oak Hill Senior Living and one at Reflections at Garden Place.

Last Wednesday, Wagner announced the death of a woman in her 70s who was not a resident of a long-term care facility. 

Last Thursday, he reported two more deaths of women in their 80s who lived at Integrity Healthcare of Columbia but were not living in that facility at the time of their death. 

Wagner announced two more deaths last Sunday, but the details of those deaths were not immediately known. 

“We’re thinking they’re related, probably, to Integrity,” Wagner said, noting that facility sent residents who contracted COVID-19 to facilities with dedicated wings in Alton and Carbondale. “We don’t know of anybody who has died recently.”

In addition to the deaths, Monroe County added 55 new cases since Feb. 17. 

There was one case reported Monday, one case reported Sunday, six cases reported Saturday, 11 new cases Friday, seven new cases Thursday and two new cases Wednesday.

There have been a total of 4,118 cases here since the pandemic began. Roughly 180 of those cases are active, and 10 local residents remain hospitalized with the virus.

The process of vaccinating any adult in Monroe County against COVID-19 who wants to be protected got a boost over the weekend after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Development OK’d a third coronavirus vaccine in America. 

Developed by the medical company Johnson & Johnson, this vaccine requires only one shot and can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for up to three months. That is in contrast to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that require two doses and freezing temperatures. 

The comparative ease with storing and administering this vaccine, along with the boost in supply, might accelerate local vaccination efforts, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said. 

“It’s a good thing,” Wagner said of the newest tool to fight the pandemic. “Hopefully, it will free up some more vaccine for us. I’ll take whatever they can get us. We’ve still got a lot of older population (to vaccinate).” 

It may take some time, however, for this third vaccine to help supply meet demand. 

Johnson & Johnson has said it will ship 4 million doses right away and a total of 20 million by the end of the month. It also pledged to have 100 million doses for the United States in the first half of 2021. 

Combined with the 600 million total doses of the two-shot vaccines the nation is supposed to receive, every American adult should have the opportunity to be vaccinated in the next few months. 

Wagner said the earliest Monroe County may get the new vaccine is in two weeks, as that is when health departments are slated to begin receiving it. 

In addition to requiring just one dose, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower efficacy rate than the previously approved shots. 

Per the FDA, it is 66 percent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, and that number rose to 72 percent for clinical trials in the United States. 

Both previously approved vaccines are over 94 percent effective at preventing cases of all severity. The FDA required any vaccine to be at least 50 percent effective. 

That may make some individuals want to wait to get one of the two-dose vaccines, but most health experts have so far recommended taking any vaccine you can. 

Wagner said he would recommend waiting to get one of the two-dose shots for people under 40 without underlying health conditions, since the Johnson & Johson vaccine appears less effective at preventing mild cases of the virus that individuals in that age group are more likely to have. 

“At-risk populations and the upper age groups, definitely take whatever vaccine you can get as soon as you can get it,” Wagner advised. “Younger age groups, in my personal opinion, should wait for Pfizer or Moderna. The likelihood that they are going to be hospitalized or die from it anyway is very low.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was also tested at a time when more variants of the virus were spreading, meaning the efficacy numbers are not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Notably, it was still found to be 85 percent effective at preventing severe forms of the virus and 100 percent effective at protecting from hospitalizations and deaths. 

“Once we can stop the hospitalizations and the deaths, we can substantially get back to normal,” Wagner said. “It can be you catch it, you get sick, you recover. But we don’t have that volume, and we’re a long way from that problem right now.” 

The efficacy data comes from clinical trials that included almost 44,000 people in Africa, South America and North America. 

That study found the most commonly reported side effects of the shot were pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and nausea. These effects were mostly mild to moderate and lasted only a couple of days, per the FDA. 

Like the Moderna vaccine, Johnson & Johnson received federal money to develop this shot to the tune of $456 million. The government also signed a $1 billion contract for 100 million doses.  

Unlike its predecessors, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not use mRNA technology. 

Instead, it uses a cold virus that has been modified so as to be harmless to deliver a gene to encoding the spike protein of the novel coronavirus to the recipients’ cells. That allows the cells to then construct the spike protein, teaching the immune system to recognize and fight it without causing infection. 

This method of vaccination, or viral vector vaccine, is well-established and backed by decades of research, per the CDC.  

After the clinics next week, Wagner said he anticipates holding a few clinics to inoculate people age 65 and older and essential workers listed in group 1b. 

Then, the health department will begin vaccinating people ages 16 and older who have underlying health conditions. 

In the meantime, Wagner said the best ways for Monroe County residents to get vaccinated is to do so through a mass vaccination site at the St. Clair County Fairgrounds in Belleville or through Memorial Hospital. The Walgreens locations in Columbia and Waterloo are also offering vaccines. Click here to register.

Veterans age 50 and older can also get vaccinated through the VA St. Louis Health Care System. Email STLCOVIDVetVaccine@va.gov or call 877-222-8387 (press 1) for more information.

Per the Illinois Department of Public Health, Monroe County has administered 10,025 doses of COVID vaccine. There are 3,201 people fully vaccinated here – meaning 9.32 percent of the county has received both shots.

Illinois overall has administered 3,463,150 doses of the vaccine and received over 4.5 million doses. A total of 1,194,320 residents have gotten both shots, which means 9.37 percent of Illinois is fully vaccinated.

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 2,105 cases (24,123 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,567 cases (10,225 tests) and Valmeyer zip code has had 159 cases (907 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 3.1 percent on March 6.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro east was 3.6 percent on March 6. The region has 33 percent of its ICU staffed beds available.

In St. Clair County, there have been 28,432 total positive tests and 456 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 293,186 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 4,005 confirmed cases, 22 of which are active. Eighty-two people have died from the virus there.

Illinois overall is up to 1,201,027 cases of coronavirus and 20,781 deaths.

There are 1,178 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 263 people in ICU beds and 132 on ventilators.

Missouri has recorded 481,245 confirmed cases and 8,295 deaths. That includes 74,826 cases in St. Louis County and 19,360 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 29.1 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 562,722 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 117.4 million cases of coronavirus and over 2.6 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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