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All adults now eligible for vaccine

Blood draws suggest virus more widespread than thought; variants also more common

 

April 8, 2021



All Wyoming residents above the age of 16 are now officially eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. Phase 1 of the program is complete in every county in the state and all 23 counties, including Crook, have moved into Phase 2, which involves appointments for the general population.

“I want to express my appreciation for the efforts of public health workers, health care providers and pharmacies throughout the state,” said Governor Mark Gordon in a press release announcing the milestone.

“I would encourage every resident to take advantage of the vaccines, as Jennie and I have, and help Wyoming move closer to ending this pandemic.”

If you are between the ages of 16 and 18, you will be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine only. Adults over the age of 18, however, are also eligible for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson versions.

It is now also possible to schedule a vaccination appointment at certain pharmacies across the state through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. This includes pharmacies at Walmart, Albertsons, Safeway, Walgreens and King Soopers stores.

Side Effects

At this time, no person in Crook County has experienced a serious enough reaction to the vaccine to require epinephrine.

However, Dr. Heith Waddell reassures those who are waiting their turn for a shot that a plan is in place to respond if this should happen and EMS personnel have received extra training.

Waddell says he doesn’t want to downplay the potential side effects, as some people do feel relatively strong flu-like symptoms. But, he points out, it’s nothing to worry about, because, “That means your body is doing what it should and giving you a good immune response.”

“People who have had COVID-19 do seem to have a little bit more of a difficult time with the first shot,” he cautions. He has noticed that people who have had the virus in the past seem more likely to experience flu-like symptoms for a day or two, although plenty of people suffer no side effects at all, whether or not they’ve been through COVID-19.

As a side note, he also notes that we’re already into allergy season, so if you feel symptoms later than a couple of days after your shot, they could be attributable to your allergies.

Immunity

Research is still ongoing as to how long natural immunity lasts after a COVID-19 infection, but Dr. Waddell recommends getting the jab even if you recovered from the virus relatively recently. Most experts are currently recommending that it’s appropriate to be vaccinated from around 90 days after recovery.

“Through the health fair, we are doing the antibody tests this year, which is giving us a quantitative number of your antibodies, and what I’m seeing is that even people who have had COVID-19 back in September to November still do show antibodies,” he says.

However, he says, your antibody levels will be significantly higher following a vaccine, even if you still have some lingering natural immunity, and this will increase your protection against the virus.

The ultimate goal of the vaccine program is, of course, herd immunity: a situation in which enough people are immune to the virus that it has a difficult time hopping between hosts. It’s still unclear what percentage of the population will need to be immune to stop the pandemic in its tracks – that’s the million-dollar question, Waddell says.

However, some early data from the health fair blood draws is suggesting that Crook County may be closer to achieving herd immunity than the official figures suggest.

“With some of the data that we’re getting out of some of these blood draws, it looks like we’ve had a significantly larger amount of people who have had COVID-19 than we thought,” he says.

Though it’s early days in collecting that data and the numbers will not be officially compiled until all the blood draws are done, “it wouldn’t surprise me if it was three, four or five times that amount.”

People who are not included in the official count may not have been tested because they experienced no symptoms or because they got a low viral load and didn’t really notice their mild symptoms.

“If you combine those people who got it and have immunity, plus those that got vaccinated and have immunity, we’re probably at between 20 and 30 percent,” he says.

It takes time to achieve herd immunity and even longer to be sure it is working, though, and Waddell cautions that it’s still possible to rebound if the community stops taking the necessary precautions to limit the spread.

“In general, when we look at our situation especially in this county, we’re getting back to normal and there’s less mask wearing. I think we still have to be cautious,” he says.

After the Vaccine

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still suggests practicing caution once you are fully vaccinated, which is considered to be the case two weeks after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Moderna and Pfizer) or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). At this time, the CDC says scientists are still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of the disease.

But while the CDC does recommend that vaccinated people continue to practice social distancing, mask wearing and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces until we know more, the organization does provide guidance on what a vaccinated person may now do without concern of spreading the virus. Gathering indoors with other vaccinated people without a mask or unvaccinated people from one other household without masks (unless they are in regular contact with someone at increased risk of serious illness) is permitted according to the guidance. If you have been around an infected person, you also do not need to isolate or get tested unless you have symptoms (unless you live in a group setting).

However, the CDC asks that vaccinated people continue to avoid medium- and large-sized gatherings and delay both domestic and international travel.

According to the CDC, work is ongoing to understand several aspects of the impact the COVID-19 vaccine will have. This includes how effective the current versions are against new variants of the virus; how well vaccines prevent people from spreading the disease; and how long a COVID-19 vaccine can protect people.

Variants

Analysis by the Wyoming Department of Health has revealed that the “variants of concern” of COVID-19 have been present in this state with more strength than had previously been confirmed. Four of the variants have been shown as present through genetic sequencing of a large batch of positive samples collected since November.

At least 40 cases are now known to have involved the UK variant, while a total of 40 cases involve the two California variants and one case was confirmed as the South Africa variant.

“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” said state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist.

Variants are labelled “of concern” if they are shown to transmit more easily, lead to more serious illness or have resistance to COVID-19 treatment options.

“Because the variants can affect the success of certain treatment options, we have shared updated information with healthcare providers across the state to help them help their patients,” Harrist said.

Local Precautions

No changes have been made to the state’s health orders this week. Crook County School District has meanwhile announced that it will no longer be requiring masks in school buildings as of April 6. However, masks will still be recommended when social distancing is not possible and transportation will continue to follow current mandates and require masks on school district transportation vehicles.

“It is our desire for all staff and students to continue to use safe practices, including social distancing and extra precautions, which have gotten us thus far,” said Superintendent Mark Broderson in a letter announcing the decision.

 
 

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