Vaccine comes to Monroe County

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Sitting, from left, are Monroe County Health department employees Brian Eckert, John Wagner and Elizabeth van Uffelen as they receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Administering the shots, from left are nurses Kim Castello, Kim VonDerHarr and Liz Nonn.

Monroe County received its first shipment of the novel coronavirus vaccine this week, with the first 100 doses arriving Wednesday.

It began administering the first doses of the vaccine at 1 p.m. at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, vaccinating only medical workers until the supply was used.

Health care workers had to provide proof of employment to get vaccinated.

“We will be getting additional doses in the coming weeks,” Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said.  

The first three to receive the vaccine in Monroe County were Wagner and health department personnel Brian Eckert and Elizabeth van Uffelen.

“This is just a practice run,” Wagner said after getting his vaccine shot.

The day before the county got its first vaccine shipment, Columbia EMS began vaccinating its workers.

Columbia EMS Chief Kim Lamprecht reported all but one of her full-time crew members got their first shot, while about 60 percent of the part-time employees got theirs. The second round of vaccination for those individuals is set for mid-January.

Columbia EMS got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through the BJC Hospital system.

The county got the Moderna vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, making it the second vaccine developed and OK’d within a year of the pandemic’s emergence. 

“It’s good. It’s going to give us a higher volume coming in,” Wagner said of the second vaccine’s approval.

Monroe County was originally slated to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but Wagner said the plan now is to send that shot to hospitals and large county health departments that can store it at the ultra-cold temperatures required.

The Moderna vaccine, which has virtually the same efficacy as its counterpart, will go to smaller health departments. 

“Either one, we’ll take,” Wagner said. “It just depends on the volume that they get. If they can keep the equity fair without shipping Pfizer to counties that don’t have cold storage, they’ll do it that way. But if they have to ship it, they will.” 

Wagner said he actually would prefer getting the Moderna vaccine since it does not require ultra-cold storage, making distribution easier.

“We were prepared to give the Pfizer vaccine in the time period allowed had we gotten it, but the issue is with the shipment and everything,” he said. “It’s becoming a logistical nightmare.” 

The initial doses that come to Monroe County will go to health care workers who do not work in a hospital. 

After that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the next priority was people age 75 and older and essential workers like first responders, teachers and grocery store workers. 

“Our plan is to get it out to health care workers as soon as we get it,” Wagner said. 

Monroe County did not get any of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because it does not have a hospital.

Surrounding areas that are larger or have hospitals have already begun vaccinating medical professionals. 

Memorial Hospital and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in St. Clair County vaccinated their first employees in recent days, and health care workers in St. Louis have also started receiving their first shots. 

Red Bud Regional Hospital got its first vaccines last Wednesday and has begun using them. RBRH Director of Marketing Meghan Markotay described the first vaccinations as a “monumental day,” with Dr. Julie Kelley and Dr. Amy Rohlfing being the first at the facility to get the shot. 

“We are choosing to get the vaccine because for the last eight months we have witnessed the effects that this virus continues to have on our families, our community, our nation and our world,” the doctors said. “We are confident in the safety of vaccines in general, so we have no reservations in taking this one. Getting the vaccine, like wearing my mask, is another pivotal step in helping us return to the life we knew before COVID-19.”

Those individuals got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is 95 percent effective in preventing coronavirus after at least one week after the second dose. 

The Moderna vaccine is 94.1 percent effective for those 18 and older, the population the FDA approved it for use in. 

Another similarity between the two shots include that the Moderna vaccine uses messenger RNA technology. 

Essentially, these vaccines contain a small piece of the virus’ genetic material that instructs the body to make the virus’ “distinctive ‘spike protein,’” the FDA explained. When a person is vaccinated, their body copies the spike protein, which triggers the immune system to react definitely and produce an immune response to the virus without causing damage. 

Other similarities include that the Moderna vaccine requires two shots, though the second dose comes after 28 days instead of 21, and that it has been granted only emergency use authorization by the FDA, a faster-than-normal regulatory process used because of the public health crisis presented by the pandemic. 

The key difference between the two is the Moderna vaccine does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures like its counterpart. It must be stored at between -13 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

After thawing, vials of it can be refrigerated by 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 30 days prior to first use. Unopened vials may be stored between 46 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 12 hours. 

Another difference is that Moderna, a Massachusetts-based company that has never manufactured a vaccine before, received billions of dollars from Operation Warp Speed, the program the Trump Administration has used to accelerate vaccine development. 

The FDA gave an EUA to the Moderna vaccine after its advisory committee voted 20-0 to recommend it do so. 

“The known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks,” the FDA said after reviewing the vaccine’s clinical trial data. 

A total of 30,351 people participated in the vaccine’s trial, with roughly half getting a placebo and half getting the actual shot. There were 196 cases of COVID-19 in the study, only 11 of which were in the vaccine group. 

There were no severe cases in the vaccine group and 30 in the placebo group, though the FDA reported it is awaiting confirmation of a new severe case in the vaccine group. 

The most common side effects of the shot, which typically last several days and are more common in those 65 and older, were injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle ache, joint pain and chills. 

Those occurred in 91.6, 68.5, 63, 58.6, 44.8 and 43.4 percent of participants, respectively. 

Those reactions were more common after the second dose, as were severe adverse reactions. Severe reactions occurred in .2 to 9.7 percent of participants. Three members of the vaccine group had a type of facial paralysis called Bell’s palsy, while one member of the placebo group had it. 

The FDA said it could not determine a causal relationship between the vaccine and that problem and said the vaccine overall was safe. 

“Severe adverse events, while uncommon (1 percent in both treatment groups) represented medical events that occur in the general population at similar frequency as observed in the study,” it reported. 

The FDA also said it does not know if the vaccine is effective for those who previously had the virus, are asymptomatic, are under 18 and for how long the vaccine is effective. 

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