Forging Ahead: Breaking down more of DHEC’s COVID-19 vaccine update

Breaking down DHEC's plan for a COVID-19 vaccine update in South Carolina

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The federal government has now approved the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine, and states are tasked with preparing on how to receive these vaccines once they become available.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s assistant state epidemiologist released a COVID-19 vaccine update this week.

The presentation goes through the differences between Pfizer’s, the first vaccine in line for an emergency use authorization, along with Moderna’s vaccine, which will be reviewed by an FDA advisory panel next week after also requesting an EUA. It’s with this authorization that the first allocations of the vaccine will be made available to the U.S.

As the name may imply, an emergency use authorization typically arises during times of crisis. The FDA defines it as “a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tideland Health’s VP of Medical Affairs Dr. Gerald Harmon said federal funding helped push forward vaccine development and organization quickly, but that this doesn’t cut corners.

“All those regulations have been expedited. So it’s basically a funding situation that allows this new emergency use authorization to progress rapidly while still meeting the scientific standards,” said Dr. Harmon.

DHEC’s presentation says that getting a vaccine that’s available through an EUA isn’t subject to written informed consent requirements but rather, a fact sheet will be provided to recipients.

That fact sheet is supposed to include information such as vaccine series information; who should and shouldn’t get the vaccine; the reinforcement that receiving the vaccine is by choice; and risks and benefits of the vaccine, including common side effects.

The DHEC presentation then calls on health care providers, who will be administering the vaccine, that they should avoid the term “side effects” with their patients, and use “temporary symptoms” instead, saying that these are signs that the vaccine is working.

Based on clinical trials that have been undergone by thousands for Pfizer and Moderna - mild to moderate symptoms can include things like fatigue, chills, headache, and muscle aches. This is normal, health officials say. Studies show severe symptoms are rare.

“No one really gets ill enough to require medical treatment - to go to the hospital,” Dr. Harmon said. “It’s been an incredibly safe vaccine; it’s very rewarding and gives us a lot of confidence.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with an interesting type of technology. The vaccines send a genetic message or code (messenger RNA) To teach cells in the body to make a protein to trigger an immune response.

“They just get a code telling their protein-making cells to make this antibody,” Harmon explained. “And it doesn’t take the virus itself to be injected into the subject, so you can’t get the disease from this vaccine; it’s pretty cool technology.”

DHEC says nearly 200 providers across South Carolina have enrolled and are primed to both store and administer vaccines once they’re activated by DHEC.

But initially, DHEC says there are 5 core sites that exist across the state, where the Pfizer vaccine will be sent and then distributed to providers. DHEC warns cyber terrorism is already a threat, and that’s why those location sites have not been publicized.

The presentation says there’s “concern about a rush for the vaccine,” but that once more becomes available as expected next year, those location sites could be revealed.

The first vaccines will be distributed to those who fall within Phase 1-A.

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