Pocahontas Memorial Hospital staff urge residents to get vaccinated
About 50 percent of the population in Pocahontas County has received at least one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Of that group, almost all are now fully vaccinated. And while pharmacist Kari Cooper is pleased with that number, it still falls short of the estimated 70 percent needed to achieve “herd immunity”, the point at which enough people become immune to a disease to make it’s spread unlikely.
Cooper, a pharmacist at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, says the county has done an excellent job of vaccinating the elderly and those at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections. She says the push now is to reach people in the next critical age group.
“The forgotten generation was our 16 to 35 year olds,” she says. “Which, what we are seeing right now is that is the group of people that is getting COVID. And that makes sense, right, they’re the last group to ever be eligible to get the vaccine. They also tend to be the most vaccine-hesitant, and that’s for a variety of reasons. And then, it’s also a group of people that so far, in the COVID virus, they haven’t been overly affected and if they were, it wasn’t severe. So it’s difficult for a 17 or 18 year old to say that they want to take this vaccine, because they think even if they get COVID it’s not going to be that big of a deal.”
Dr. Kelby Faulkiner, an emergency room physician at PMH agrees. And he wants people to understand that the COVID-19 vaccine is not like the yearly flu vaccine.
“It’s not a live virus,” he says. “That’s very important for people to know because you always hear people say I get the flu vaccine, then I get the flu from it. It is not a live virus – you will not get COVID-19 by receiving this COVID-19 vaccine.”
Unlike the flu vaccine, which is developed using a live virus, the COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA or messenger RNA vaccines. In simplest terms, they teach the body to produce a protein that triggers an immune response within the body. That response produces antibodies which protect the body from the virus. Interestingly this has also led to another misconception – that the virus will affect your DNA.
“When this COVID-19 vaccine comes into a cell, it comes into a cell, but it doesn’t come into the nucleus and that’s the important part,” says Dr. Faulkiner. “The nucleus is what holds our DNA, that’s what makes us who we are and makes us all different. The COVID-19 vaccine does not attack that nucleus or go into that nucleus and mess with one’s DNA.”
Dr. Faulkiner also feels that the criticism about the vaccines being developed too fast is undeserved.
“Thank goodness for Operation Warp Speed and how it brought everything along so quickly,” he says. “It cut out a lot of the red tape where it may take a vaccine 3 years, it was 10 months before we released the Pfizer vaccine. My reading of articles and researching this, there was no shortcuts taken in the rigorous processes and procedures that are warranted with every vaccine before it’s approved or distributed to the population.”
Cooper says between Pfizer and Moderna, about 70,000 people participated in the initial vaccine trials. The vaccines were then submitted to the FDA for an emergency use authorization or EUA which allowed the companies to distribute the vaccines. The EUA does not mean that the vaccines have received full FDA approval.
“The FDA didn’t take shortcuts with this, they still have safety, they still have efficacy, they still have their entire rigorous approval process,” says Cooper. “Now, where we started with 70,000 people getting Moderna and Pfizer, we now have 150 million Americans that have received these vaccines.”
And while many do experience temporary head or body aches or even flu-like reactions to the vaccines, neither Dr. Faulkiner nor Cooper have seen or heard of more adverse reactions to the shots. There has been a very rare blood clot reaction to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Cooper says that vaccine is available by request in West Virginia with a few adjustments due to the blood clot issue.
She says the emergence of variants of the virus is another reason to push for herd immunity.
“It’s not going to stop mutating, the variants are going to continue to happen,” she says. “That’s where the herd immunity and getting the majority of people vaccinated really comes into play because if you can stop the spread of this you can stop the mutations and the variants.”
If you haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccination and would like to, you can contact Pocahontas Memorial Hospital at 304-799-7400 or the West Virginia Dept of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 information line at 833-734-0965.