Burress dispels vaccine misconceptions

Amber Burress, H-E-B Pharmacy Manager, discussed COVID-19 vaccine availability, side effects and restrictions last week as the featured speaker at Rotary Club of Kerrville regular meeting.

H-E-B Pharmacy Manager Amber Burress, Pharm. D, addressed Rotary Club of Kerrville members last week to share information about the current planned COVID-19 vaccine distribution schedules.

As a certified COVID-19 distributor, H-E-B Pharmacy and Burress administered the first vaccines in Kerr County on Dec. 23, while local hospitals immediately followed innoculating their respective staff members.

“We are going to go over the vaccine itself, what’s available right now,” Burress said. “We will look into some of the misconceptions about the vaccine and then we will go into how it will be distributed to everyone in Kerr County.”

Burress explained that the two vaccines currently approved by the Federal Drug Administration are based on mRNA technology and produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

Burress explained that with these two vaccines, no live COVID-19 virus is injected into the vaccine recipients, rather a “spike protein” that’s on the actual COVID-19 virus is injected into a person’s immune cells.

“The vaccine gives our cells instructions on how to make this protein,” Burress said. “Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside our immune cells, the cells make the Spike Protein. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. The cell then places the protein on the surface of the cell. Our immune system then recognizes it does not belong and starts building an immune response to the protein making antibodies.”

Burress said this process is the basis for all vaccines, which is to build antibodies to a virus.

Misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines are causing confusion, Burress said.

“The vaccine is not a live virus. There is no possible way that the vaccine can give you COVID-19,” Burress said. “It is just a little piece of a copy of it, to show your body what it is.”

Also, Burress said, concerns about the vaccine affecting a persons genetic makeup through DNA is unfounded.

“The vaccine does not enter the nucleus of the cell, where your DNA is kept,” Burress said. “There is no interaction with your body’s DNA with this vaccine. There’s no possible way. There’s a lot of misconception out there and a lot of questions, but the vaccine never actually enters the nucleus.”

Burress said the internal process of the vaccine will break down the mRNA soon after it is finished with “instructions” to fight the virus.

Vaccination safety

Burress said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested on 30,000 to 40,000 people and while it seems the process was “fast tracked,” she said the only urgency was seen in the approval process.

“Yes. It was fast-tracked, but the part that was fast-tracked was getting the approval to do the studies,” Burress said. “That part came because it was such a necessity to get the process started quickly.”

She said there are no indications that these current vaccines will be any less safe than other historic vaccines.

The most common side effects “with any vaccine and this one,” Burress said, are pain and redness at the injection site, chills, fever and fatigue.

“If any of you have had the Shingrix vaccine, that one is actually worse than the COVID vaccine,” Burress said.

V-safe technology

Burress said data on the COVID vaccines continues to be gathered and those receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are participating in a V-safe After Vaccinations Health Checker program.

“What this does is basically gather after-market information as to side effects,” Burress said.

She said vaccine recipients will register online for the program and will be contacted daily to document any side effects.

“They will text you daily, then weekly and then monthly,” Burress said. “It will ask you about side effects and you will click the box that applies to you.”

The process, she said, takes less than one minute to complete.

“This will help get out more information than what we know from the initial 30-40,000 trial participants,” Burress said.

Vaccine restrictions

While plans are under way for a community-wide vaccination clinic, Burress said residents should be aware of the some restrictions to receiving the vaccine. Those restrictions include:

• A person testing positive for COVID-19 must wait 90 days to be vaccinated;

• May not have had any other vaccine within 14 days;

• If you had a serious allergic reaction to the first dose, you are restricted from receiving the second dose;

• if you had a serious allergic reaction to another other vaccine.

“These are the only real restrictions from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” Burress said.

Vaccination administration

Burress provided details for both vaccines, while stating that currently Kerr County has only received the Moderna vaccine.

With the Pfizer vaccine, Buress said, it is:

•    Administered in the arm;

•    Approved for ages 16 and up;

•    Is a two-dose series;

•    Second dose given 21 days apart;

•    Efficacy is 95 percent beginning seven days after the second dose.

Facts about the Moderna vaccine, she said, are:

•    Administered in the arm;

•    Approved for ages 18 and up;

•    Is a two-dose series;

•    Second dose given 24-28 days apart;

•    Efficacy is 94 percent beginning 14 days after the second dose.

Vaccine distribution tiers

Burress said the distribution of the vaccine is mandated by state and federal officials, stating that the first tier is to be given to staff and residents of long term care facilities, as well as direct-care staff such as hospitals. EMS, pharmacies, school nurses and others.

“This is where we are right now. Once we get through Tier 1-A, we switch to 1-B,” Burress said.

Tier 1-B includes all persons over the age of 65 and all persons over age 18 with at least one chronic medical condition. Those conditions include, Burress said, Cancer, Chronic Kidney Disease, COPD, Heart conditions, Organ transplantation, obesity, pregnancy, Sickle Cell Disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

As of now, Burress said, Kerr County has more than 3,400 healthcare professionals identified for the vaccine in Tier 1-A. However, only 1,600 vaccines have been received as of last week, she said.

“Our biggest obstacle right now is getting the vaccine into Kerrville, so we can immunize those in 1-A and then move on to 1-B,” Burress said. “There is a little bit of confusion, with the media announcing the vaccine is here. We have to follow the process we’ve been given for distribution.”

Burress said she began taking names for appointments, thinking the availability of the vaccine would allow for moving to the next tier recipients soon. She said 700 local residents called to get their name on the list.

However, now she and other vaccine administrators are working with Peterson Health, City of Kerrville, Kerrville Fire Department and Kerr County officials to plan for mass vaccinations through a clinic similar to that of the annual Flu Shot Clinic.

“We’ve been perfecting that process for 10 years now,” Burress said. “So, when we are able to move to the next tier, we feel this is the best way to reach the most people. We’ve agreed that we will all move to 1-B together, so that no one will have an edge on anyone else in receiving the vaccine.”

Burress said plans are under way for the mass vaccination clinic, which she said will be held at multiple locations to allow for less congestion and confusion.

“Our emergency preparedness team has been preparing for this moment for 10 years,” Burress said. “The only thing we are waiting for is the vaccine. Once we get it here, we are all going to do it together, so you won’t worry about where you need to call or go to get your vaccine.”

Burress said more details will be provided when plans are finalized and vaccines are available. In addition to Peterson Health, KFD, City of Kerrville and Kerr County, Burress said other vaccine providers include Medical Arts Plaza and Family Practice Associates.

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