(SS) For months, people desperate to get back to normal life have been counting on a coronavirus vaccine to swoop in and lift the country out of quarantine.
Now the first vaccines are finally arriving. And with them, a slew of pressing questions.
We want to help, and we’re collecting and answering your questions about the vaccines.
Q. Will everyone in a long-term care facility receive the vaccine, whether they live independently or in assisted living?
A. Yes. People in independent living are included, according to Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Both residents and staff at all long-term care facilities are eligible to receive the vaccine.
That’s good news for residents such as 91-year-old Sylvia Rothschild, who lives on the independent side of a long-term-care facility. “I don’t have to be in the nursing home, thank God.”
Q. Will snowbirds who are getting ready to spend the winter in Florida be able to receive the vaccine here?
A. Yes. Non-Florida residents will be eligible, Mahon said. So it won’t matter which state you call home, but it is likely you’ll have to wait until we’re in the widespread distribution phase.
Q. How will that vaccine rollout work, and when can we all get one?
A: Florida’s hospitals will be giving the vaccines to doctors and nurses who want them, with priority to those who work in emergency rooms and COVID floors. At the same time, nursing home residents and staff will get the vaccine through Walgreens and CVS, which have the capability to store the current vaccine and are partnering with the state. That process is expected to take a month or so. The general public will have to wait until months into 2021.
Sometime next year, vaccination sites will be offered in public places. State officials may use locations that have been used for COVID testing, and pharmacies are readying to offer them.
Q. How should those who are 65 and older or have a pre-existing medical condition get their vaccine if they’re quarantining at home to limit exposure to the virus? Will there be home visits or drive-by injections?
A. Seniors who live in their own homes fall into the governor’s third priority group. Once long-term care residents and health workers are taken care of, all seniors should be able to get vaccinated at clinics set up by CVS or Walgreens, said Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida in Tampa. As different types of vaccines come online, the options should grow.
“Hopefully we’ll have more different types of vaccines to distribute in a few months, with more logistical expertise for storing the vaccine and also less specialized storage requirements,” Teng said. “It would be great if you could do a walk-up clinic, or maybe convert parking lots or existing COVID testing sites into walk-in or drive-up clinics for vaccinations.”
That means people like Judith and John Enzor should only have to wait a few more months. They’ve been quarantining in their Hollywood home since February. Judith Enzor said she hopes they’ll soon be able to get a COVID vaccine the same way they do with the H1N1 vaccine each year.
“Publix does it in the parking lot so that we don’t have to go into the store and be exposed,” she said.
Q. How important is it to get both doses of the vaccine?
A. It’s very important, Teng said. The data for the Pfizer vaccine shows that there is some minimal protection after the first dose, but to get to the full protection from the vaccine, which has been 95% effective, you’d have to get the second shot, he said.
“Half the people respond pretty well after the first dose, but all people will respond to two doses,” he said.
That’s because people’s immune response can vary depending on their genetics. The average person will not know their genome sequence or how their immune system will respond, he said.
The potential side effects of the vaccine are similar to most other vaccines, including pain at the injection site and chills or fever. And you’re more likely to feel these effects after the second dose. Some people felt fatigued after the second dose. Everyone’s immune response will be a little different, he said.
If most people get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the first season, which is the plan, we shouldn’t have to worry about the virus mutating and becoming vaccine-resistant, Teng said. It’s a phenomenon scientists know as “immune escape,” which means the virus changes to avoid your immune response.
Q. Will the vaccine be free for everyone? If not, who will have to pay for it and how much is it estimated to cost?
A. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. tax dollars will be given at no cost, per the CDC. But vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for giving the shot. The providers can get the fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.
All in all, it comes down to the insurance companies, Teng said. He said he estimates each dose can cost about $20 or $30 to buy, but it will be up to those administering the vaccine to decide what they charge people.
Q. If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask?
A. The official answer from the state is that it’s recommended.
“The state of Florida is working closely with the Federal Government on guidance for all Floridians following taking the vaccine. Because the vaccine requires two doses, at a minimum, it is recommended to continue mitigation measures after receiving the first dose.”
Teng says it is absolutely necessary, “especially after the first dose.” And that’s because the clinical trials for the vaccine don’t tell us whether it blocks transmission to others.
“The vaccine blocks symptoms, but we don’t know if it blocks infection,” Teng said. “It’s protecting you from the disease, but studies show there are people who are asymptomatic who can transmit the virus.”
So if you get vaccinated against the disease, you won’t get it. But if you’ve been exposed to it because you haven’t been wearing a mask or socially distancing, there’s a chance you can still pass it to others who haven’t been vaccinated, he said.
Q. How effective is the vaccine?
A. The current vaccines are highly effective, even more so than the seasonal flu shot, Teng said. It’s on the same level as other highly effective vaccines, such as those for measles and the papillomavirus. That level is 90% effective or more vs. the 50% to 60% range of the flu shot’s effectiveness, he said.
Q. There are various COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline. Which will be distributed in Florida?
A. The U.S. on Friday signed off with the final go-ahead in rolling out Pfizer’s vaccine. Only the Pfizer vaccine will be available in Florida, for now. That will eventually change as vaccines — including those for children — are approved.
Q: What’s the next vaccine that Florida will get?
A: The next vaccine in the pipeline is one made by Moderna, which could start rolling out in another week. An advisory committee in the coming days will meet to discuss authorizing the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine for people age 18 and older.
Q. Will I have a choice of vaccines?
A. Yes. Once both vaccines are available, designated vaccine sites will have one drug or the other, but not both. The drugs cannot be mixed, and whichever vaccine is your first dose is must also be your second and final round. Once the vaccines are available to the general public in 2021, you can choose which vaccine you want by going to the appropriate vaccine distribution site.
Regardless of where people get their vaccine, the state will use Florida’s State Health Online Tracking System, an immunization registry also known as SHOTS, to document who is getting the vaccine and to provide reminder messages for people who need to get their second dose.