FAQ: How will I be alerted to get the vaccine? Where do I go to get it? Will I still need to mask up?

Updated: Dec. 18, 2020 at 2:28 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – The first rollout of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine across the country, and here in South Carolina, brought new hope to a pandemic that has changed everyone’s lives.

But while the rollout has been an exciting time, it has been a confusing one to many who are wondering when they can be next in line to roll up their sleeve and get the vaccine.

WMBF News has received nearly 100 questions from our viewers over the past couple of weeks, many asking about the complex distribution process. We took many of those questions straight to Dr. Brannon Traxler with the Department of Health and Environmental Control and Angela Williford with Conway Medical Center during a virtual town hall to get our viewers’ answers.

FORGING AHEAD | WMBF investigates South Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

We also want to address that many people have been reaching out to us and asking what phase they fall into in order to get the vaccine. The link shared below has the most updated list that we have with information that has been provided by DHEC and Gov. Henry McMaster.

LIST: COVID-19 vaccine distribution phases, who receives vaccine in each phase

It is important to remember that the phases and those who fall under each phase are subject to change. The only one set in stone at this point is Phase 1-A. The CDC advisory committee will be meeting to vote on recommendations on Phase 1-B and Phase 1-C soon. Then DHEC and the Vaccine Advisory Committee will look over those recommendations and will solidify who fits under Phase 1-B and possibly Phase 1-C.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: My overarching answer is we’re not going to let you miss it. We’re going to use every method that we have out there to the point that you will probably be sick about hearing that it’s that group’s turn for each group. We will use every type of media that there is. I want to encourage people to visit our website, we keep it very well updated, things are updated almost every day about the COVID-19 vaccine and so it will certainly be on there.

But we will also be sending out press releases, we’ll be getting it on the news, newspapers, radio, social media.

We will also be making sure that doctor’s offices and pharmacies are aware so that they can be speaking to their patients who are eligible at each phase.

Where you go to get it will be very variable depending on the person and which phase they are in. A lot of those logistics are still in the planning stages… but they will be very accessible to people when it’s their turn.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: There will be more communication when it gets close to that time. It won’t necessarily be like, ‘OK on such and such date at 8 a.m. we’re flipping the switch.’ But we will start communicating in advance of it when we see that we’re nearing the end of Phase 1-A.

We’ll start communicating especially to those groups who will be in Phase 1-B that it’s coming up soon and where and how they can get the vaccine. It will be a little bit of a blurred line, but we will be communicating so that it’s clear to folks.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: A lot of that will be dependent on continuing to receive the vaccine as we started seeing this week. We got the number of doses that we were expecting at the start of the week, arrived in South Carolina. We don’t have any reason to think that won’t continue.

One exciting thing that came out this week is that the FDA and CDC have said, hospitals like Conway, started noticing on Monday that they could get more than five doses out of one vial. The FDA and CDC have said, ‘Yes you can get that extra dose occasionally too out of the vial.’ So, it doesn’t mean that anybody is getting less than what they’re supposed to, it literally just means that there’s extra in the vial and so that’s going to speed things up.

I would estimate it will take weeks to a couple of months to get through Phase 1-A. Part of that, will be if new vaccines will come on.

We know Moderna is probably going to get its emergency use authorization likely tomorrow (Friday), maybe this weekend and so that will start rolling out to states. There are other vaccines that are in the pipeline too in clinical trials and Phase 3 that we could be seeing later in the winter and early spring and that would certainly speed things up if they did.

Angela Williford: We’re going to keep wearing them for a while for several reasons.

Number one, no vaccine is 100% effective. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94% - 95% effective which is fantastic but it’s still not 100%.

Also, the data has shown that these vaccines are very effective to preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, but the data is not yet clear on how well these vaccines prevent transmission.

And finally, we don’t know yet how long these vaccines are going to be effective in the body. There were no shortcuts taken in the development of the vaccines or the trials but we’re still working on a very short timeline, usually vaccines are studied for years before they’re delivered. In this case because of the emergency, we shortened the timeline so that means we haven’t had a long period of time to see how long the vaccine stays effective.

All of that combined means we’re going to have to keep using the very basic methods that we’ve been using for the last 9 months; masking, social distancing, good hand hygiene until we can reach herd immunity through vaccinations which means 70%-75% of the population being vaccinated.

So, what’s the benefit to getting the vaccine if you still have to wear a mask? Basically, that’s the only way we’re going to get back to our normal lives. It’s going to have to take all four defenses that we have available to use; vaccine, masking, social distancing and good hand hygiene to fight this pandemic and shut it down and allow us to get back to our lives and be saving lives.

Angela Williford: We don’t know yet how often we’re going to have to be re-vaccinated, if at all, and it’s a little early to know that. We’re going to have to wait for the science to tell us that.

In terms of who pays for it, right now the federal government is paying for these vaccines and no recipients will be charged. They will be delivered free of charge.

Of course, we have a new administration coming in on Jan. 20, but I took a look at Joe Biden’s COVID plan last night and it’s very clear that he intends to continue this plan through 2021 of no one being charged for a COVID vaccine.

I would imagine once the public health emergency is over and the COVID vaccine becomes a normal routine vaccine, it would be covered by insurance just like all the other vaccines we get on a regular basis.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: A lot of that will be specific to the phases.

You will need to register at least in the immunization registry, the vaccine administration management system, which is mainly to make sure you get a reminder to come back for that second dose three or four weeks later, that’s the big thing there. It will also be a place where you can go and request documentation of your vaccination status.

Whether it will require an appointment for every single person, especially when we get into the general population, will remain to be seen. It may be that you can register and if we have clinics and mobile sites for vaccinations, you may not need an appointment, but it depends on where you’re getting it and how you’re going about that.

But all that information will be forthcoming as we go through each phase, there will be more specifics for that phase and the people in it and all the details and all through Phase 3 when there will be a vaccine for anyone who wants it.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: When an individual, when it’s their phase and they’re eligible, they will have the vaccine available to them.

I can’t answer right now whether household members would get vaccinated then or in the phase that they would fall into. Those are things that we’ll wait to see what the advice is from the CDC’s committee and the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Angela Williford: I have looked at the data and I’ve looked at the cases in the UK and Alaska, but the extreme allergic reactions seem to be very rare.

I can speak for my hospital and let you know that we’re prepared to deal with that if it does happen. We have an anaphylactic kit in our vaccination room. We have protocols for a medical team to be called if someone starts to have a problem.

And we’re observing every recipient for at least 15 minutes in the vaccination room to make sure that they’re not having an issue. Most anaphylactic reactions occur in the first 15 minutes, so by the time we observe them for 15 minutes we’re pretty confident that they’re good to go.

And again, we have vaccinated over 200 people so far this week and we have had no adverse reactions so far.

In terms of Pfizer vs. Moderna, I’ve looked at the data and there doesn’t seem to much a difference in terms of the side effects that people have been experiencing in the trials.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: There have been these reports, one or two in Alaska over the past couple of days and a couple in the UK. At least the ones I know in the UK had a history of severe allergy to a medicine or vaccine.

Every precaution is being taken as Mrs. Williford said, all the facilities are doing a great job, they’re prepared, these are medical professionals that are giving the vaccine and so they’re prepared. They’re not only following the protocols to watch but they’re prepared to step in if action needs to be taken.

Whether it will happen with Moderna, I think these are very rare events for both vaccines, at least so far, these were not things that we were seeing during the clinical trials, so I don’t think they will be very frequent because each of these went through 30,000-40,000 people without any problems to allergic reactions. There is some potential that it could occur in Moderna because they are very similar vaccines, but that will remain to be seen.

Again, the data will continue to be collected, there is ongoing safety monitoring by the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies and the CDC. But so far these seem to be very rare events.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: The federal government is holding back, so out of the 42,900 that we received this week, there is another 42,900 that Pfizer is holding through the federal government for us that will be sent, earmarked for second doses in 21 days so that there won’t be any concern for giving it away early, and that will be an ongoing process.

Angela Williford: In terms of whether a prescription is needed, it’s my understanding it won’t be. Most prescriptions are available through a protocol scenario where a medical director who is over a facility signs off on a protocol for administrative vaccines, which is why you can just show up at your local pharmacy and get a flu vaccine every year without going to your physician first for a prescription.

Dr. Brannon Traxler: As we get into the phases, we’re looking at underlying medical and health conditions that put you at increased risk, in terms of when it’s those people’s phase it may be you’ll need a note from your doctor or it could be at a pharmacy, them knowing that you’re on medication for certain conditions. All of those are still specific details that we’re in the process of operationalizing in conjunction with our partners in the Vaccine Advisory Committee.

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