GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Now several weeks into distributing COVID-19 vaccines to New York’s Phase 1A and 1B residents, questions are still flying in for every provider giving out shots: How do I sign up if I don’t have internet? How bad can the side effects be? What if I’m elderly and can’t travel far?
Those were just a few of the questions addressed Thursday at a panel discussion via Zoom hosted by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. Led by chamber president Michael Bittel, the panel discussed misconceptions and concerns surrounding the vaccine, as well as details of where both Warren and Washington counties are at with their distribution plans.
First dose, second dose, post-dose
For Dr. William Borgos of Hudson Headwaters Health Network, important to note is the difference in side effects between vaccine doses. He said that regardless of whether the shot is Moderna or Pfizer, the second dose is more likely to leave a person feeling in less than peak condition for a while.
“We’re seeing maybe 10 to 20 percent of people complaining of sore arms, significant fatigue and aches after the first dose, over 50 percent with the second dose,” Borgos said.
Those side effects tended to go away after around 28 hours. Borgos said fatigue and low-grade headaches were also common.
As far as why those symptoms might flare up worse during dose #2, Borgos said that it was at that point that the body would really start gearing up to fight the real virus.
And, contrary to some misconceptions, neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines have any actual coronavirus in them, and can’t get a person sick. Vaccines immunize the body by introducing the body to some of the proteins that make up the virus they are guarding against, but Dr. Christopher Mason from Glens Falls Hospital said the coronavirus vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which work a little bit differently.
“mRNA vaccines are the blueprints towards proteins,” Mason said. “So our bodies’ cellular machinery takes that RNA and transcribes it into protein which is presented to the immune system.”
That means that, in terms of the human body understanding what to fight against, it’s no different than any other kind of vaccine currently in use.
Both currently active vaccines require two doses to be fully effective. The wait times between those doses are slightly different; 21 days for Moderna, 28 for Pfizer. When it comes to scheduling, both are being treated with a four-day grace period leading up to that 21st or 28th day, and if there needs to be a longer wait, the good news is that the first dose will stick in the meantime.
“We don’t believe that you’d need to start all over again,” Mason said. “An immunity, we believe, is 7 to 14 days after that second shot.”
That said, there are still enough variables that those vaccinated are encouraged to keep social distancing and wearing masks. Both companies are studying the actual effectiveness of the vaccines in the field, as administration continues.
Another big unknown is that of booster shots. Protection is assured for 4 to 8 months, but after that is still an unknown. That said, both doctors were confident in what they knew.
“We should be excited about just how good these vaccines are,” said Borgos. “Their safety profiles are excellent, and they work extremely well.”
One viewer asked if a patient who got one shot of one vaccine, would it be safe to get the other for their second dose. Mason said that was a risk, and not recommended.
Also present with much to share were Warren County Public Health Director Ginelle Jones and Washington County Public Health Director Patricia Hunt, both of whom have had a busy few weeks since vaccinations began.
Warren County has been vaccinating for the last three weeks, and has administered 750 doses, with another 100 received on Wednesday. They’ve been directed to focus on essential workers like firefighters and law enforcement first and foremost, with the rest of Phase 1B to follow.
Jones said her department thought they were ready when vaccination for 1A began, but that supply shortages and rapid changes in plans at a state level had created some stumbling blocks since.
“Somehow, 1A started and then 1B kind of started before we were done with 1A,” Jones said. “As the new guidance has come out, where 1B is now strictly a local public health role, I’m now kind of not able to help with the 1A role, which is what I started out doing with our first clinic.”
Those changing plans and short supplies have been a whole different issue for Washington County, who didn’t get their first supply of vaccines until this week. They most recently received 600 vaccines that will be used during two vaccination sessions over the weekend; and all were spoken for within 3 hours.
“We did target the more ambulatory,” Hunt said about the older populations getting doses this weekend. “We are very conscientious and aware of homebound, but those who are homebound typically have less daily exposure.”
Both counties have been advised at this point to focus on Phase 1B, as well as residents age 65 and older at large, which will be directed to pharmacies. Getting all the information out to seniors is a challenge, as many older residents may not have internet access, or an understanding of how to schedule an appointment.
Both county officials suggested having loved ones and caregivers check for them, and also pointed to the state COVID hotline. Warren County operates a hotline of its own, as well. Warren County’s hotline can be reached at 518-761-6200, and the state hotline can be found at 1-833-697-4829.
The challenge of reaching seniors also came with surprises for pharmacies, who are tasked with the brunt of that population.
“Some of them kind of got caught off guard by getting vaccines in Warren County, where they might not have had scheduling systems in place to accommodate,” Jones said.
Both counties operate offices of aging, which have agreed to help reach out to seniors in more remote or tough spots, to ensure everyone gets a dose without having to travel farther than they safely can.
By state mandate, both counties are serving any New York resident who qualifies within one of the phases currently open for vaccination. While Washington County waited for doses, some of its residents may have gone to Warren County instead.
One viewer asked why they, in Phase 1C, was being told that they would have to travel as far as Potsdam to get their doses. Jones suggested it was likely due to the wide variety of different outlets at different levels scheduling vaccines as they thought they would get supplies, and said that sometimes her department had even been promised vaccine supplies that never arrived.
Jones pointed out that the vaccination process is delicate, with a story from a clinic for the elderly recently held by the county.
“Right in the middle of the clinic, there was some maintenance done on the state system, and it kind of reset the state application, which activated a clinic which we had on standby should we have received the vaccine,” she said. “And when that happened, we had 23 people sign up for a clinic that we weren’t having that day.”
The full panel can be found in the story above.