Health officials work to dispel vaccine rumors

The Florida Department of Health in Franklin and Gulf counties is pushing forward with a clear message on vaccinations – they are effective and a critical tool to keeping what has become a resurgent pandemic under control.

And they are taking on misunderstandings and rumors surrounding the shots.

“The vaccine helps protect you and the health of the broader community. If you still get COVID-19, the vaccine has been proven to reduce the severity of illness, hospitalization, and death,” read a news release Friday. “The vast majority of cases in Franklin and Gulf counties are unvaccinated individuals, between age 15 and 50.”

Data from the last week of July showed that Franklin’s positivity rate of more than 31 percent – 111 cases out of 356 tested – had moved ahead of Gulf County, whose positivity rate of nearly 28 percent – 156 cases out of 564 tested – had dipped from the previous week.

The release addressed the issue of vaccinated people still getting the coronavirus. “Scientists continue to study how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and just how sick people will get from it,” it read. “Some variations allow the virus to spread more easily and might cause illness in some people even after they are fully vaccinated. Those variants must be monitored more carefully by scientists.”

It also touched on a new therapy, REGEN-COV monoclonal antibody therapy, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised the emergency use authorization for authorizing it for emergency use as post-exposure treatment for COVID-19.

“REGEN-COV is not authorized to prevent COVID-19, only after exposure to the virus,” it read. “Treatment with REGEN-COV is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19. People should talk to their health care provider about whether the use of REGEN-COV for post-exposure prophylaxis is appropriate for them.”

The Forgotten Coast counties continue to lag well behind the state’s 63 percent vaccination rate. Franklin, 45 percent of the 12,295 population has been vaccinated, while in Gulf, with a population of 14,829, the rate is 44 percent.

The news release addresses several questions surrounding the vaccinations, including why someone who has had the shot may still get COVID-19. “Vaccine breakthrough cases are expected,” it reads, reiterating its effectiveness. “No vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people. The risk for COVID-19 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus.”

Regarding the vaccine’s safety, the release says that COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated on tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials, and that the met the FDA’s “rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization.

“The vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. This monitoring includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” it reads. “Serious side effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely unlikely following any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that side effects generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose. For this reason, the FDA required each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be studied for at least two months (eight weeks) after the final dose.

“CDC continues to closely monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. If scientists find a connection between a safety issue and a vaccine, FDA and the vaccine manufacturer will work toward an appropriate solution to address the specific safety concern,” it reads.

In addition the speedy rollout, the fastest in history for a vaccine, the release notes that “one of the best explanations for the advancement of science starts with understanding something called the ‘human genome project,’ (which is) the ability to read the complete genetic blueprint of a human being.

“Researchers were able to successfully sequence and map all the genes, together known as the genome, of human beings. The project involved over 200 labs in the U.S., 18 other countries, cost $3 billion and took 13 years of work,” it reads. “The end result was the ability to decode the entire human genome, the order of chemical ‘bases’ of your DNA. Today, scientists can do the exact same thing, in a shorter amount of time and less costly.”

Because scientists can decipher genetic coding very quickly, scientific efforts to tackle the virus (from testing, to tracking how the virus is mutating, to development of vaccines) can move faster, reads the release. “The virus genome was sequenced and shared publicly in January 2020, meaning researchers and manufacturers could begin developing vaccines against COVID-19 in record time. So, science is able to speed up thanks to the ability to decode genetics.”

The release goes on to that this new grasp of genome sequencing enables researchers to monitor how COVID-19 is mutating as it spreads from person to person and from place to place. “The vaccines being rolled out are based on the version of the virus identified in late 2019. (but) the virus has since evolved, so scientists are understanding in real time the impact of identified mutations,” it reads.

The release also dispels rumors that the vaccine will make you magnetic, or that the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. contain a live virus. Neither is true.

“COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way. Both mRNA and viral vector COVID-19 vaccines deliver instructions to our cells to start building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19,” it reads. “However, the material never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.”

The health department reminds those who have tested positive to stay home unless they need medical care, and to be with others after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication. If you have had an exposure to a positive case and are not vaccinated, please follow your quarantine orders.

Common symptoms include headache, fever or chills, shortness of breath of difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea.

“We often hear about ‘really bad headaches’ or allergies (and) these could be COVID-19 symptoms,” it reads.

The health department and other medical providers continue to offer the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. To schedule with the health department, please call DOH-Franklin at (850) 653-2111 or DOH-Gulf at (850) 227-1276. Vaccines are also available through Weems Memorial Hospital, PanCare of Florida, Inc., North Florida Medical Center and local pharmacy locations, including CVS and Buyrite.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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