Vaccine education key to distribution

While many have begun receiving vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus, questions remain about when others will be able to get the vaccine, and how effective it will be. Kimberly Whitaker of Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas has answers to several of those queries.

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January 7, 2021 - 10:32 AM

Kimberly Whitaker is leading the charge against COVID-19 in southeast Kansas, overseeing the vaccine rollout at 19 different clinics. Photo by Trevor Hoag / Iola Register

Vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus are in full swing in Allen County and across the country.

To understand more about the vaccine and the distribution process, this Register reporter sat down with Kimberly Whitaker, head vaccination compliance coordinator for the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.

Whitaker is the point-person overseeing distribution of the vaccine at 19 clinics.

When it comes to getting vaccinated against the virus, “people are scared because they don’t always understand the technology,” said Whitaker.

Hence she’s simultaneously engaged in an information campaign, explaining why the process is safe and effective.

Whitaker urges people to talk about their vaccination experience afterwards, both with health professionals and everyday people. This not only helps physicians gain insight into potential health concerns, but helps to normalize getting vaccinated so that people are less wary about it.

Whitaker described this process of acceptance of having “a domino-effect.”

What are the potential side-effects of the vaccine?

“The big concern [for people] is side-effects,” Whitaker noted, but she assures people that they won’t grow a tail or, perhaps sadly, gain any superpowers. And any side-effects that might arise are closely monitored and have data collected on them.

For most, it’s simply mild arm soreness, a headache, or feeling a bit “crummy.” Things like sterility, autism, or being tracked by a computer chip are simply not demonstrated by scientific data and have no basis in fact.

For those who get the vaccine after already having had COVID-19, they often feel a bit worse following vaccination, with symptoms like fever or fatigue.

What kind of vaccine is it, and how does it work?

The particular vaccine being made available locally is from Moderna (as opposed to Pfizer), which despite being connected to genetics, said Whitaker, is not as scary as it sounds once one understands the science.

Think of it like a piece of computer code. “We’re putting that [code] into your body so that your cells can recognize it and produce the protein that looks like COVID. And then your body will recognize that it doesn’t belong there and will create an immune response.”

In order to maximize the vaccine’s effectiveness, it is also applied in two doses (a primary and then a booster shot), which for the Moderna version, are typically given 28 days apart.

The vaccine is for those 18 and older.

Why is it important to get vaccinated?

“It isn’t always about YOU,” Whitaker said. “It is about everybody in your community. Those kids that aren’t vaccinated … It’s that little lady you’re standing behind at the pharmacy. If you’re not protected and she’s not protected, and you’re positive, you could kill that person.”

She also pointed out that “the CDC estimates 75 to 80% of the population must be vaccinated in order for there to be wide-spread [or ‘herd’] immunity.”

Which, put another way, means that for life to return to “normal,” millions of people are going to need to be vaccinated first.

When will you be able to get the vaccine?

According to Whitaker, there are basically four main phases of the rollout, and at the Community Health Center it’s as simple as signing up during the appropriate phase.

The first phase has already begun and includes health care workers like nurses and physicians, as well as long-term care residents. Around 310 people have already received the vaccine via the CHC, Whitaker estimated.

The second phase, which Whitaker is confident should begin Feb. 1, will include essential workers such as educators, first responders, utilities and retail workers. As with essential businesses, there’s a bit of ambiguity here, but the CDC has a list of what kinds of professions qualify.

The third phase then includes adults with high risk medical conditions as well as those over the age of 65. According to Whitaker, however, it’s unclear when this phase might begin due to availability of vaccine doses. “It’s going to depend on how much vaccine we can get,” Whitaker said. “It’s not a lack of us being able to give it.”

The final phase simply includes anybody who remains that has not already been inoculated.

Worth noting as well, is that according to Whitaker, it’s possible to be vetted for a specific stage and told to wait, that’s it not your turn yet, which suggests the need for both vigilance and patience when it comes to getting vaccinated.

To learn more about the vaccine itself and its distribution, Whitaker recommended the CDC website: cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/health systems-communications-toolkit or simply google “COVID communications toolkit.”

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