COVID-19 Vaccination Saves Lives! Are you ready?

A few years ago, I had written a health blog regarding the importance of vaccination titled “My Salute to the Power of Vaccination”. It seems like déjàvu as I am writing the same topic, this time focusing on the importance of vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though three different COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in the United States, after initial high interest, the rates of vaccinations have flattened or declined throughout the United States including in Onondaga County.

OCHD’s first COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic on December 28, 2020, at the War Memorial.

The Onondaga County Health Department (OCHD) started an intense mass vaccination campaign on December 28, 2020. Since then we have given approximately 53,000 first doses of COVID -19 vaccines in the clinics operated by our County Health Department. We have provided vaccine at Oncenter Complex in downtown Syracuse and various community clinics including many in the schools. Additionally, vaccines are available at the NY State Fair location, many pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Because of such a widespread effort, 210,352 residents have received their first doses of COVID -19 vaccines and 150,064 second doses have been given. As of now, 56.0% of Onondaga County residents age 16+ have received at least one dose.

Three vaccines are available in the US at present. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and need 2 doses, while Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is a viral vector vaccine and requires only one dose. All three of them are effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID -19 disease. The good news is that all three of them are available in our community.

The recent pause by CDC and FDA of the J &J single-dose vaccine has created discomfort among some people. I would like to assure everyone that thorough investigation and swift action should give more confidence regarding the safety of the vaccine because CDC and FDA closely monitor the safety of all three vaccines. What was behind the pause? CDC and FDA put a pause on J&J vaccine on April 13 after learning of very serious but extremely rare side effect of blood clots with low platelet (type of blood cell) in 6 women. For those who experience this side effect, symptoms begin between 6-15 days after getting shot. During the pause, the FDA and CDC did further investigation. Out of more than 8 million doses of J&J vaccine (known as Janssen COVID-19 vaccine), experts found 15 reports of this side effect among women. One of the very important reasons to pause was to make sure the right treatment can be provided to those who have this rare but serious adverse effect. On April 23, the pause was lifted.

As of April 25, 2021, CDC and FDA reported that these adverse events occurred primarily among women between 18-59 years of age. To date, most of these reports have been in adult women younger than 50 years of age; however, there have been reports in men and older women. Based on the data, 7 women were impacted per 1 million people 18-49 years of age. The rate for both women more than 50 years and men is less than 1 per 1 million. In summary, this is a rare event for all women; and for women 50 years and older and men of all ages, this event is even more rare. Based on the available data, it was concluded that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks.

 According to the CDC, anyone who is 18 years of age or older can receive the J&J vaccine, stating “Women aged <50 years can receive any FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. However, they should be aware of the rare risk of TTS (blood clot with low platelets) after receipt of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, and the availability of other FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines (CDC). The highest rates of TTS per vaccine doses administered were identified in women <50 years of age.”

We know that scientists and doctors at CDC and FDA continue to monitor side effects and any adverse effects for all three vaccines currently available in the United States through VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System).

An OCHD pop-up clinic at Tucker Missionary Baptist Church in Syracuse.

Taking a vaccine is a very personal decision. I would like everyone to learn about the facts of COVID -19 vaccines before getting a vaccine.  All three COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in preventing hospitalization and death by 100 %.  One of the most important benefits of getting the vaccine is that you can start participating in many activities and see your close family and friends.

As I am seeing the devastating situations due to COVID-19 in Brazil and India where a lack of resources including oxygen, treatment, and vaccine, and a lack of public health measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing, I would like to remind every resident of our community that the pandemic is still here and we should do everything to control the transmission of infection by creating all the barriers between the virus and us—by mask-wearing, physical distancing, and very important now, VACCINATION!

An OCHD pop-up clinic for seniors at Brighton Towers.

If the majority of our community can get vaccinated, the virus will not be able to find human bodies to spread and thrive. That is how we will end the pandemic, starting with one person and then one community at a time…! We can only defeat the virus if we band together and use all our tools together.

Please make an appointment today to get your vaccination. Registration information for vaccination in Onondaga County can be found here. The CDC also launched a helpful vaccine finder app to search for vaccine availability by zip code. We are also accepting walk-ins during our clinics after scheduled appointments.

As the FDA is looking at data to approve the Pfizer vaccine for children 12-15 years of age, we will discuss it next week along with myths about vaccination.

Thank you!
Indu Gupta
May 3, 2021