Vaccine virtual town hall with Long Beach health leaders answers community’s questions

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In an effort to answer questions from the community as the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, District 8 Councilmember Al Austin, hosted a virtual town hall where Long Beach health leaders discussed a range of topics including vaccine availability, eligibility and what to expect after receiving it.

The vaccines have been shown to be “highly effective” at preventing COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, based on what is known about vaccines for other diseases and early data from clinical trials, it is believed that the vaccines may prevent serious illness if a person does contract COVID-19.

However, it is the unknown about the vaccine that prompted the community to voice their concerns at the town hall. Questions about the vaccine’s efficacy after one dose and how long immunity lasts poured in through email and social media. Currently, only the first dose of the vaccine out of two is being administered.

City Health Officer. Dr. Anissa Davis noted that there are currently some things that are not known when it comes to the vaccine, so wearing a mask, physical distancing and regular hand washing even after getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important.

She noted that although the vaccine was studied well it was studied very narrowly as a push to make the vaccine available grew when the nation started to see an immense number of deaths due to COVID-19.

“What they studied and looked for was does it prevent mild or moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms, and they found that after two shots, it does,” she said.

However, there are still factors that have not been thoroughly studied, such as what happens after only one shot out of the recommended two is administered. There’s also no study as to what the vaccine does to asymptomatic people, whether they can still transmit COVID-19 or if the vaccine prevents it. How often people need to get vaccinated is also unknown.

Also in the list of unknowns is how many people in a whole entire community need to be vaccinated in order to get herd immunity. 

Although there is the unknown, Davis stressed the positives that are known about the vaccine, “we know this vaccine saves lives and prevents severe and mild disease,” Davis said. “But there’s all these things we don’t know, so until we do, which is months and months and months [ahead], we still need to do everything that we’re doing.”

According to Davis, following social distancing guidelines for months to come will be important.

“No Super Bowl parties, if you have a baby shower coming up, postpone it, just wait, let’s try to get to the summer, and kind of see where we’re at,” Davis said.

The second dose is expected to roll out in February

Davis advised the community to get the second dose of the vaccine once it is available, which is expected to roll out in February.

In response to a question from a community member, Davis said that those who received the first dose of the vaccine will be a priority for the second dose if done so through the Long Beach system. However, this is predicated on the availability of the vaccine.

“We just never know how much we’re getting,” Davis said. “But we have everybody in the system.”

As of late last week, about 27,000 people in Long Beach had received the first dose of the vaccine.

Vaccine shipments are currently limited

The city received a shipment of 2,100 doses of the vaccine for this week.

According to Kelly Colopy, director of Health & Human Services, who was part of the town hall panel, the City finds out every Tuesday the shipment amount they will be getting for the following week and they have no idea what that will look like as there are no projections.

“At the state level they’re getting about 490,000 doses, that gives all the regions about the same sort of amount for their population,” Colopy said. “And they mentioned on a call the other day that they don’t foresee that growing soon, so I think we’re gonna be at the sort of low level for a while, which is really problematic for the incredible demand.”

Colopy assured viewers that Long Beach will be ready to administer the doses when more show up.

(From left) Ikenna (Ike) Mmeje, chief operating officer at Long Beach Memorial at MemorialCare’s Long Beach Medical Center and Miller’s Children’s & Women Hospital, (upper right) City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis, (bottom left) Councilmember Al Austin and (bottom right) Kelly Colopy, director of Health & Human Services for the City of Long Beach.

Signal Hill, Lakewood and surrounding areas

One of the questions that has been arising as Long Beach residents and workers continue to get the vaccine is if the surrounding cities will be able to drive over for vaccinations.

The current answer is no, but a partnership with LA County, which is in charge of the vaccines for surrounding cities like Signal Hill and Lakewood, was not ruled out.

“The allocation of vaccines, what we get from the state, is based on the people in Long Beach,”  Colopy said. “In a partnership, if we could get the extra vaccine that was supposed to be intended for folks in the other locations, especially in Lakewood, Signal Hill, some of the surrounding [areas], we’re open to partnership.”

“At this time we don’t have the vaccine to be able to serve others,” Colopy added, “But in a partnership with LA County in the future, there’s a possibility that they would provide us the vaccine for those folks and we would be able to get it to them.”

Child care center workers & private school teachers

Child care workers will be able to get the vaccine at the same time as the education sector, which started receiving it this week. However, Colopy cautioned that there are very little vaccines.

“There are going to be opportunities for childcare centers that are currently open and serving children, Colopy said. “But I think that we’ll be doing some outreach through that and then ongoing after that, but right now it is very limited in who we’ll be able to serve.”

Private school teachers will also be eligible to get the vaccine with the rest of the education sector.

“There’s going to have to be a lot of sub-prioritization within the educator community just because of the availability of the vaccine,” Davis said. “So, it’ll be sub-prioritized to teachers who are actually doing in person-instruction and who are in the advanced age groups where you saw you’re more likely to be hospitalized or to have serious complications from COVID-19 infection”

Davis added that as more vaccines become available, it will open up for more staff. 

Getting the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered

It is recommended to get the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered. However, it should be 90 days or more since the infection to be able to get the vaccine.

“The indication right now is that you can be reinfected,” Davis said. “We don’t think it happens a lot, but we have seen that it has happened.”

Davis added that although there’s confidence that immunity after being infected lasts about 90 days, how long immunity lasts can’t be said for sure since the virus has only been around in the U.S. for a year.

It is also unknown if after being infected immunity includes different strains of the virus or just the one strain a person was infected with. 

However, according to Davis, the vaccine appears to work for all the strains out currently. 

What you can expect after receiving the vaccine

According to Davis, there is a variety of side effects and a whole spectrum. She noted that some may just have a sore arm, others will feel a little feverish, experience a headache, feel tired or under the weather like you have a cold or the flu. 

“Usually they see most of those side effects after the second dose,” Davis said.  “But some people are definitely getting them after the first. The symptoms are usually mild to moderate.”

Davis added that the symptoms usually happen within the first three days after getting the vaccine, and don’t usually last more than one to three days. The symptoms don’t usually hinder day to day activity.

Davis noted a health checker smart-phone tool by the CDC, V Safe, that the community can sign up for after getting vaccinated. The tool will monitor symptoms for a period of time.

Volunteering Opportunities

There were many inquiries from the community on how to get involved and volunteer at vaccination clinics.

Davis recommended the Medical Reserve Corps as the avenue through which to apply, whether it’s a medical or non-medical volunteer inquiry.

For more information visit their portal here.

To learn more about the vaccine roll out you can visit the City’s website here or sign up for VaxLB to get eligibility updates. The town hall can be found in its entirety here.

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