You have big questions about COVID-19, the vaccine to protect against it, and how to get the shot.
The latest episode of our local web show – NJ Press Pass: Calling the Shots – connected you with South Jersey experts in health and medicine to sort out how the vaccine interacts with your body and the logistics of acquiring it.
Meet the experts:
Caryelle Lasher is a communicable disease investigator for Camden County’s health department who can help us understand how to acquire the vaccine locally. She oversees the county’s large vaccination sites.
Dr. Kanad Mukherjee is a family medicine doctor with Rowan Medicine who oversees the medical facility’s vaccine clinic. He fields questions on bodily interactions, new strains and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ efficacy.
Jarrad Saffren, based at the Burlington County Times, is the South Jersey COVID-19 vaccine beat writer for the BCT, Courier Post and The Daily Journal. He visited a half-dozen vaccination sites and witnessed more than 50 individuals — from healthcare professionals to seniors — get their shot in the arm.
“This is the largest and most unprecedented public health effort in modern history, and it’s not the smoothest process just yet,” Saffren noted.
“Stay patient. There is no target date yet for the general population … go online, figure out what you can do now and do it. Educate yourself about the vaccine.”
That’s why we’ve called on our health contacts to sort it out.
The doctor’s pro-tips:
- The vaccine does not prevent you from actually getting COVID, it prevents you from having symptomatic COVID and prevents you from having severe COVID.
- Your second dose manufacturer MUST match the first dose. If you received the Pfizer shot first, you must follow it with another Pfizer shot, for instance.
- Mukherjee notes the difference between Rapid tests and PCR test: Rapid test picks up COVID if you already have symptoms. PCR tests pick up COVID if you are asymptomatic.
Your questions, their answers:
Q. Am I eligible for the vaccine right now?
A. Saffren says: I recommend the state COVID headquarters online as well. Search up the NJ COVID HUB (https://covid19.nj.gov/). And then the state phone line (855-568-0545) as well. They can walk you through eligibility questions as well. It’s heavily staffed, more than 250 people taking calls from all over the state.
Q. How can I get the vaccine in Camden County? – Laura Zuggi
Rowan Medicine Vaccination Center – rowanmedicine.com/vaccine
Q. How long do they think the vaccine will last? We kind of estimate 4 months immunity after you are infected, so will that be the same for the vaccine? – Joe Allen, Gloucester Township
A. Mukherjee says: There are three types of immunity we’re looking at – antibodies, B-cells and T-cells. Antibodies have been found in COVID patients at the same level or about the same level eight to 9 months after initial infection. B- and T-cells are helpful in another response. T-cells help ID the virus and kill it. And B-cells are memory cells to make antibodies. They’re at levels to do their jobs eight to 9 months out.
Moderna, he said, is expected to work for one year. That’s important because the vaccine works in a similar way.
Q. As someone with anaphylaxis from a food allergy who also used to get very sick from the DTP vaccine as a baby/toddler, should I go to my doctor’s office or a healthcare facility for this vaccine as oppised to say, a massive vaccination site? – Karen DiStefano Spring, Deptford
Q. My daughter’s physician told her not to get the vaccine because it causes infertility, and then tried to sell her vitamin supplements. I can’t find any information to support this. Her gynecologist says it has no effect on fertility. Do you have information concerning the vaccine and fertility? – Marie Traum Flynn, Gloucester County
A. Mukherjee says: As of now, there is no data saying it does or doesn’t affect fertility. Where this idea started coming around was, there is one protein that is similar to the spike protein that the vaccine works for. And some leap there is that is causes infertility. An analogy I’ve heard is … just because your phone number has the number 7 and my phone number has the number 7 doesn’t mean they’re the exact same thing. There are similarities but not enough to cause the chain reaction of events to cause infertility. In both the Pfizer and Moderna studies, people in the vaccine arm got pregnant, so there is some anecdotal part of data that it may not happen.
Q. I’ve seen several reports that you can still infect people even if you get the vaccine, that you are only protecting yourself, and will STILL need to wear masks. Is this true? – Joan Binder Ballard, Gloucester County
A. Mukherjee says: I’m hopeful there will be some reduction in asymptomatic spread, which I think is the silver bullet out of all of this. It’s true, technically. For the Pfizer series, your peak protection is day 30. For Moderna it’s day 42 – six weeks after the first dose. As of now all we know is it protects you from getting symptoms of COVID or bad COVID. We don’t quite know yet if you can’t spread it to others.
Q. One thing I have been hearing from some people is they’ve had trouble making second appointments, let’s say it goes beyond the 21 days, or the 28 days and you still haven’t had your second appointment, is the vaccine still working? – Jarrad Saffred asked during the broadcast
A. Mukherjee says: Moderna, the vaccine was studied in a pretty broad window, as early as day 24,as late as day 35, if the range Moderna can work. Pfizer has a similar window. The ACIP – one of the medical bodies that does immunization best practices … says the upper limit for both vaccines is day 42. That is the ceiling you can work with if you find yourself in a precarious situation where you can’t find the vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna have this point of, don’t restart the series if you’re past day 42. Get the second dose.
Q. My parents fit all the categories: 75, cancer, heart disease, obesity and still can’t get an appointment. Even in the future. What do they do? – Ro Williams
A. Saffren says: Look for local options if there are any. At this point, there may not be. All you can do until more doses are available until more appointments are available is wait, unfortunately.
Lasher says: Keep looking online and keep checking for appointments that are available. As we’re getting more vaccines, more appointments will be available. The state will be sending out emails to everyone who has registered for the sites nearest to them. Look for local options, our site being one of them.
Q. What if we received the vaccine in another state, but have moved to NJ and are due for the second one soon? – Rena Cuneo
A. Lasher says: Right now we are not scheduling people for second dose only. However, we would be happy to talk someone through that process. Anyone who got their first shot through the NJ registration system, they will be sending information out on second doses this weekend (Jan. 29). …. if there are specific questions on that, we can walk people through that.
Mukherjee says: For Pfizer and Moderna, there is some protection for the first dose. The second dose is a priority … It’s priorioity to finish the dose series out.
Q. What identification do you need to get the vaccine? My grandmother does not have a license. – Mea Pangia
A. Lasher says: We’re just trying to make sure we’re verifying we have the right person for the appointment. Any type of ID – a passport, government issued ID, a medical card, just something with that person’s name on it to make sure we have the right person.
Mukherjee says: Same at our site, too.
Q. Is there anyone to contact for elderly to be vaccinated at home that are unable to go places for vaccine due to medical conditions? – Renee Brussow Pilling
A. Lasher says: For our site, that has been a conversation, having mobile availability of vaccine. Not just at home, but at senior living and congregate living sites. It depends on vaccine availability. Right now we are trying to vaccinate as many people as posssible. As soon as the vaccine would become readily available, that would definitely be the next conversation to have, looking at those people who have different mobility issues and either arranging for the vaccine to come to them or transportation options to one of the regional sites.
Mukherjee says: We have had those internal discussions too, about … maybe truck or something, home visits. But part of the issue is vaccine supply and the type of vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer have storage requirements. Johnson and Johnson, which might come out in the future, has more favorable ones. So that sort of plays into the decision of supply chain and the practicality of that. Some of it is dependant on the type of vaccine available to do that. Not all of it avails itself to that type of visit yet.
Carly Q. Romalino is a Gloucester County native who’s covered South Jersey since 2008. She’s a Rowan University graduate and a six-time New Jersey Press Association award winner.
She is the Courier Post’s “watch dog,” taking deep dives into matters throughout the region.
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