By Chad Koenen
Less than one year after COVID-19 made its first known appearance on the shores of the United States, a mass vaccination for Americans across the country.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of Jan. 18 nearly 185,000 people have already received one vaccine dose for COVID-19 in the state of Minnesota. Nearly 36,000 people have received both the first and second shot across the state.
A total of 2,524 people in Otter Tail County alone have received at least one vaccine dose, while 494 people have received both the first and second shot for COVID-19. The people vaccinated already include those who live in congregate care facilities, front line medical personnel and first responders.
Despite the rapid rollout, Dr. Kailey Witt of Perham Health said the vaccine has proven to be both safe and effect in research against COVID-19. She said no steps were skipped during the research and trials of the vaccines, yet, much of the government red tape was stripped away as companies were able to utilize technology already in place to effectively come up with a vaccine for the new virus.
With funding in place, vaccines were created even before the research was completed in order to speed up the roll out of the vaccine, a big reason why people were able to get vaccinated so quickly.
“They didn’t skip over any steps that were already there,” said Witt. “The building blocks were there and the companies had the money to start producing before it was even approved.”
Another reason for the breakneck spread of getting the vaccine through trials, was the amount of people who volunteered to be a part of the vaccines in trial. The vast amount of people made testing the vaccine a quick process, while giving a good variety of people from the general population to formulate research.
Witt expects the next group of eligible people in group 1B will be able to receive the shot at any point between today and the end of January. Perham Health and other facilities in charge of vaccinating residents are waiting for word from the Minnesota Department of Health before moving ahead with vaccinating front line essential workers, as well as those who are over the age of 65. Among the group of individuals who will be eligible during the next set of max vaccinations will be front line daycare workers, teachers, grocery store employees and other essential workers.
“We are just waiting for the Minnesota Department of Health to move on to the next group,” she said.
With all of the uncertainties surrounding how long a person will be immune to COVID-19 after contracting the new virus, Witt suggests people not wait to get vaccinated when their turn comes up to get the shot.
“As your opportunity comes up take it,” said Witt. “Because that immunity may only last three months so they are still recommending the vaccine for people who have had it.”
As far as side affects, Witt said there have been just a few reports locally of minor side affects like body chills and aches by some people. For the minority of people who have reported side affects, Witt said they have been more commonly associated with the second shot and have been able to be controlled with Tylenol for a day or two.
“We have been seeing minor side affects, mostly flu like symptoms for just a day or two,” she said.
The vaccines currently in development and being distributed across the country do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that the COVID-19 vaccine cannot make a person sick with the new virus, yet Witt said the side affects are a result of the body ramping up its immune system to fend off the new virus.
According to the Center for Disease Control, it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity to COVID-19 after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before, or after, vaccination and still get sick. This is due to the fact the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.
Currently there are two vaccinations making the rounds across the country, one of which is made by Pfizer and the other by Moderna. The biggest difference between the two vaccines is the temperatures in which they are stored and the dates in which the second shot is required. The two Pfizer shots should be taken 21 days apart, while Moderna’s should be taken 28 days apart.
As far as the effectiveness and side affects, Witt said both vaccines are similar and show a similar effectiveness rate against the COVID-19 vaccine.
Both vaccines use a technology that has been around for years called mRNA. Unlike previous vaccines, mRNA does not use a live virus that causes COVID-19 to trigger a response to build up immunity. Instead, mRNA teaches cells how to make protein, that triggers an immune response inside individuals bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects people from getting infected if the real virus enters a body.
At the end of the process, the “spike protein” as it is called, teaches the body how to fight off a future infection without actually having to have a live virus put into a person’s body.
Three other vaccines are currently in Phase 3 trials, which include vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Janssen’s and Novavax. If any of these vaccines are approved it could result in even more vaccines hitting the market as soon as a matter of weeks to months.