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Northeast Indiana health experts separate facts from fiction on COVID-19 vaccine

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NORTHEAST INDIANA, Ind. (WPTA) - Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb confirmed Indiana’s first COVID-19 case on March 6, 2020.

After that, like much of the country - and the world, the coronavirus began to spread quickly throughout the Hoosier state.

In December, Indiana had over 8,000 infections reported in a single day.

But a few days after that, the U.S. FDA approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency-use.

It was a “shot of hope” for Americans, who yearn for the pandemic to be over, and look forward to a return to normalcy.

And even though extensive study and research has gone into the approved vaccines, misinformation continues to spread on social media and in the public.

COVID-19 VACCINE FAQ: Local Health experts weigh in on your questions

ABC21 sat down with health experts, those who have had the vaccine, and those who distribute it, digging deeper into the facts, while dispelling common myths and misconceptions.

How COVID-19 Attacks the Body

First, we’re going back to the basics of COVID-19 - how does the virus infect and attack the body?

You’ve probably seen illustrations of it already: the coronavirus looks like spheres with “spikes” on the outside.

Viruses depend on hosts to reproduce.

COVID-19 for example, spreads through particles inhaled and exhaled through the nose or mouth.

After they infect, they get right to work looking for lung cells and other tissue, penetrating the cell wall and injecting genetic material called RNA.

RNA reprograms the cell to make more of the virus, which soon spread to infect others.

Virus particles can be stopped by masks, slowed by social distancing, or prevented by the vaccine.

How the Vaccine Protects the Body from COVID-19

Vaccines are medicine that prevents illness by tricking the human body into thinking it has already been infected.

This can happen in several different ways, but we’ll focus on the types being used right now, produced by Pfizer & Moderna.

The mRNA vaccine teaches immune cells to make harmless pieces of the coronavirus called a “spike protein."

Those “spike proteins” latch onto your cell - teaching the body to recognize them as invaders - and deploys special cells to eliminate that threat.

The second COVID-19 vaccine dose gives the body an extra boost of that protection.

When the coronavirus enters the vaccinated body, the immune system immediately attacks before COVID-19 has a chance of making you sick.

It’s important to note: mRNA vaccines do not contain the virus.

If you feel symptoms after the vaccine shot, it’s because your body is learning to mount an immune response.

Even if it feels uncomfortable for a day, doctors say that's good news.

Side Effects of the Vaccine

In December, Parkview Health Patient Care Technician Reed Steffen was among the first Hoosiers to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine days after it was approved by the FDA.

He’s seen a lot death during the pandemic.

“I still remember a lot of their names, and that’s really tough,” Steffen told us, “you can’t really talk about it, other than with your coworkers who were with you at that time.”

We spoke to Steffen hours after his first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

He told us then, he felt fine.

He’s since had his second vaccine shot, and a better sense of how it affected his colleagues as well.

“The second dose, all I had was arm pain, but nothing else at all,” he told us.

“I have heard they have had temperatures, they were sore, a little fatigue too, but nothing out of the ordinary of what we expected already, and nothing to the extreme point of having to call of work,” Steffen continued.

He said the vaccine has been a glimpse of hope for healthcare workers at Parkview, but added, “there’s still a lot of work left to do”.

Vaccine Distribution and Hospitals

Dr. Scott Smith runs Adams Memorial Hospital and gave us insight into how hospitals in more rural parts of the country distribute the vaccine.

He addressed the apprehension for some Hoosiers to get the vaccine, and the misinformation that spread early on in the pandemic.

“I think that the challenge for each of the counties in Indiana and rural counties was that we were hearing information from so many sources,” Smith told us, “elected officials at the state level and national level versus the local level - it was very difficult for them to be on the same page, so the same thing happened in our communities as well.”

He was, however, pleasantly surprised at the popular response when the vaccine became open for elderly residents in Adams County.

“Senior members of the community flooded the internet and scheduled,” he said, “very impressive.”

He says, though many hospital staff members have gotten the vaccine, he’s challenging those on the fence, to consider getting it soon, “I think that healthcare workers have embraced the vaccine, but I’m ready for them to embrace it even more.”

Smith anticipates for the time being, hospitals a major player in administering the vaccine.

He says decisions now, are being made on a “week by week” basis.

The Future of the COVID-19 Vaccine

As more manufacturers plan to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, the nation’s top health experts hope the pandemic will come to a close later this year.

Late January, Johnson & Johnson released the phase 3 global trial results of its vaccine.

It only requires one shot, and is shown to prevent moderate disease by 66% and severe disease by 85%.

Several benefits include: it only needs to be refrigerated, it costs less, and it only requires a single dose.

The U.S. has already secured 100 million doses.

CVS Health has pharmacies across the nation, and officials with the company say it’s prepared to administer 20-25 million vaccine doses every month.

CVS Chief Medical Officer Troyen Brennan recently said, they’re just waiting until the U.S. has an adequate supply of vaccines to start.

Representatives with the company tell us “timing is fluid” and knowing when and how vaccines will be distributed to the public, varies on a state-by-state basis, and depends largely on vaccine availability.

Other pharmacies like Kroger, Meijer, and Walgreens are planning to distribute the vaccine as well.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes if enough Americans take the vaccine, the pandemic may end soon.

“If we can get past vaccine hesitancy and we efficiently and effectively get people vaccinated to the tune of maybe 75-85% of the population by the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall,” Fauci said earlier this month, “then we would’ve gotten heard immunity, I believe, mainly getting that blanket of protection over the community.”

Still have questions? We created a COVID-19 vaccine resource page that can help you track down the information that you need. Check it out here.

Coronavirus resources

  • Click here for the latest CDC novel coronavirus resources and links.
  • Track the COVID-19 globally using this map tracker here.
  • You can view the latest Indiana COVID-19 numbers here.
  • Track Ohio's coronavirus numbers here.
  • Need to get tested? Click here to find a testing site near you.
  • Check out or COVID-19 vaccine resource page here.
  • You can catch up on the latest ABC21 coronavirus coverage here.
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Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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