As of this week, nearly a third of Americans have now received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Yet many in the U.S. remain unconvinced. Multiple polls have shown about a third say they will not get a shot (though that number appears to be dropping). Similar percentages of hesitancy are found among healthcare workers and the military. In Moonshine Ink’s own poll, hosted on our website and conducted on an anonymous volunteer (not scientific) basis, 35% of 276 respondents expressed some concern among their social circles about getting the vaccine.

We spoke with Tahoe/Truckee residents who aren’t convinced about the vaccine and rounded up a list of questions based on their responses. Of note is that those interviewed expressed fear about voicing vaccine concerns publicly.

Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick answers the questions below. He defers several inquiries to other sources. Readers, if you’d like us to follow up with these, let us know. 

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KEVIN DICK, Washoe County District Health Officer. Courtesy photo

Frontline healthcare workers were first in line for coronavirus vaccinations in the U.S., “but three months into the effort, many remain unconvinced, unreached, and unprotected.” According to a Washington Post poll, conducted Feb. 11 through March 7, “more than 1 in 3 healthcare workers said they were not confident vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness.” What is the vaccination rate of healthcare workers in Washoe County? In the state of Nevada? What do you tell healthcare workers who express concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines?

The health district does not have specific data around healthcare workers in Washoe County or the State of Nevada. We would suggest contacting the Nevada Hospital Association. The medical providers provided vaccine[s] to its employees so we did not see many at our Point of Dispensing (POD) at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center; however, we tell the general public that the approved vaccines provide outstanding effectiveness against Covid-19 and are safe. The two-dose shots (Pfizer and Moderna) both have more than 94% effectiveness against Covid-19 and the one-dose Janssen (also known as Johnson & Johnson) is similarly effective. All vaccines were proven to prevent death and hospitalization from Covid-19 as well. Since administering vaccines at the livestock events center in December, we have not had any serious medical issues with any of those getting their vaccine here.

Pfizer and Moderna released Messenger RNA vaccines, which “are new, but not unknown,” as it’s a technology that has been studied for more than a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In your eyes, what are the pros and cons of mRNA vaccines?

Local health authorities aren’t responsible for vaccine development and more are focused on distribution. We concur with the CDC and believe the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are essential in stopping the spread of Covid-19 in our community. A pro of the vaccines is they were able to be developed rapidly, benefiting from the research and development that has occurred for over a decade. A con is that the vaccines, particularly the Pfizer, require ultra-cold storage and are therefore more difficult to ship and to handle prior to dispensing. While this makes administration more difficult, it doesn’t diminish the benefit of the treatment. This recent CDC study would be helpful to review.

The more recently approved Janssen (or Johnson & Johnson) vaccine uses a different method, which is to deliver a “shell of a virus” to trigger the body’s immune response. How does this technology compare to mRNA? Will Washoe County be using the one-dose J&J vaccine as a means to speed up overall vaccination efforts? Will it change the tiers?

In terms of comparison of the vaccines, the health district wouldn’t be the appropriate agency to respond to this as we didn’t have any part in vaccine development. We would say that all three FDA-approved vaccines are essential to stop the spread of Covid-19, and recommend residents get whichever vaccine is available when they are eligible to get it. The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is helpful to us because it’s only one dose and is still very effective and safe in preventing serious implications from Covid-19. The one-dose nature of the vaccine is helpful with planning and logistics. In addition, the vaccine is more stable prior to dispensing and therefore doesn’t require ultra-cold storage and is easier to handle prior to dispensing.

Pregnant women were not included in the initial clinical trials of the Covid vaccines, but growing evidence shows the vaccine to be safe for pregnant patients. One recent study found antibodies were passed on to newborns of 20 vaccinated mothers. What is your advice for pregnant women considering whether or not to be vaccinated? What about immunosuppressed patients?

We would strongly suggest talking to your medical provider for those questions, but highly encourage people to seek out peer-reviewed studies from reputable agencies like the CDC regarding Covid-19, as it applies to them.

At the beginning of March, doctors across the U.S. reported seeing swollen lymph nodes in people recently immunized against Covid. What side effects has the county seen in patients who have been vaccinated?

We can only report on what we see in the vaccine waiting lot after a person gets the vaccine. No serious issues have been reported at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center POD.

AT THE BEGINNING: Washoe County started administering vaccinations in December 2020. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

In an unusually transparent move, the protocol for the Pfizer and Moderna clinical trials were released early on. An analysis published in Forbes last September by William A. Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health professor, said the “trials seem designed to prove their vaccines work.” One of the main points of his argument is that the trails do “not give assurance that the vaccine will protect from the serious consequences of Covid-19,” but instead looked at “common cold symptoms.” What is your read on this assertion? 

We have not read that piece. Given that it was published over six months ago, and nearly 200,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Washoe County since, we don’t see a reason to comment on it now. Both Pfizer and Moderna submitted the methodology and results of their clinical trials, which were reviewed by FDA and by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices prior to granting the Emergency Use Authorization which found the vaccines to be safe and effective.    

Whether or not Covid vaccines are effective at preventing the spread of infection remains to be seen, yet the CDC has approved vaccinated grandparents hugging unvaccinated grandchildren. Do you agree with this advice? How will we know whether the Covid vaccines hinder disease transmission?  

The CDC is clear: “Studies show that Covid-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting Covid-19. Getting a Covid-19 vaccine will also help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get Covid-19.” We agree in that people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some of the things they had stopped doing because of the pandemic. Trials have been announced with the objective of determining if the vaccines are effective at preventing the spread of the disease.

Overall, one of the most oft-cited concerns with the vaccines is the lack of data over a long period of time. While normal vaccine trials usually run for years before getting approval, the FDA required just two months’ worth of follow-up data before authorizing the Covid-19 vaccines for “emergency use.” In your opinion, does today’s pandemic warrant the foregoing of normal protocols for long-term study? Why or why not?

We reported 211 Covid-19-related deaths in December 2020 and 111 Covid-19-related deaths in January 2021. In total, there have been over 600 Covid-19-related deaths in Washoe County and over 550,000 nationally. A Covid-19 vaccine was critical to slow down the spread of the virus and protect people from dying from it. There are several reasons why this situation was different than others in terms of FDA approval. We believe the decision to approve the three Covid-19 vaccines for Emergency Use Authorization was the right call to curb the deadly impact Covid-19 has had on our community and our country.

The backbone of our national vaccine safety program is the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which is a 20-year-old federal tool jointly run by the CDC and Food and Drug Administration. VAERS tracks side effects for immunizations given in the country, and anybody can report a bad reaction. How effective is this system at identifying effects of vaccines overall? 

We would suggest talking to the CDC for that one. We give residents information on the v-safe after vaccination health checker and recommend people report to it. 

GET IN LINE: The Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center is a Washoe County Covid-19 Point of Dispensing (POD), and no serious side effects have been reported from this site. Courtesy photo

Pediatricians are most familiar with VAERS, given that kids get lots of childhood vaccinations, but with the Covid vaccines, the anticipated reporting to the program is slated to be 10 or 20 times the normal rate. What is being done to educate doctors, healthcare workers, and citizens about reporting Covid vaccine side effects? 

We have weekly meetings with area medical providers regarding the vaccine and recommend distributing information to patients to sign up for v-safe. As mentioned, we provide a handout to everyone who receives a vaccine at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center and ask the same of community providers in Washoe County.

Are the vaccines needed to bring the pandemic to its knees?

Yes, very much so. We’re hopeful that we continue to receive more vaccine[s] so we can administer [them] as quickly as possible. It will take a while to vaccinate a majority of the population, but we’re working with our staff, volunteers, the Nevada National Guard, and our community partners to get it done. It will be important that everyone that can be vaccinated be vaccinated when they have the opportunity so we can be protected from the disease, and return together as a community and a nation to normalcy.

IN CONTACT: Washoe County maintains weekly meetings with area medical providers about the Covid vaccine. Here, dispensers are debriefed on Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

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  • Mayumi Elegado

    Mayumi Elegado was made in the Philippines, born in Minnesota, and has lived on both U.S. coasts, plus a few more shorelines overseas. From an early age, she was passionate about the written word and the power of storytelling. This interest fortuitously led to her current position as publisher/owner of Moonshine Ink. She has lived in Truckee since 1999, and dreams of being a surfing mountain cowgirl. Connect with Mayumi Visit: M-Tu, Th-Fr 9:30am - 6pm 10317 Riverside Dr Truckee, CA 96161 Email: melegado (at) moonshineink.com

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