Though the number of positive Covid cases in Gothenburg, and hospitalizations due to Covid across the Two Rivers Public Health District have slightly increased this past week, we continue to see positive movement on the district’s risk dial. This week we have dropped further down in the orange tier, below the halfway point, and that is progress.
Many in the medical community are optimistic that as the Covid vaccine distribution ramps up we will continue to see those numbers decline. Over the past couple of weeks frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and employees in our area have been receiving the first round of the vaccine. While this is exciting news, there are still many unknowns surrounding both the vaccine and the virus itself.
One common question about the vaccine has to do with the length of effectiveness. In other words, will we need to get the Covid vaccine every year like we do for influenza? We reached out to Dr. Carol Shackleton at Gothenburg Health for some answers.
“We aren’t sure yet, whether this will be annual like the flu shot, or once like the Shingrix (shingles) series, or something in between,” Dr. Shackleton said. “We will know more in a few months.”
There have also been a lot of reports in the news in the past few weeks of a newly mutated version of the coronavirus. During a briefing at the State Capitol the morning of Jan. 6, Governor Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services delivered a briefing on this new strain recently discovered in the United Kingdom.
“To date, we have not identified it in Nebraska, but it is likely to surface at some point given our proximity to Colorado – one of the states where it has been identified,” the Governor stated during the briefing. “While we believe that this strain could be more easily transmitted, it is not something that we expect will change the tools we use to respond to the pandemic. This is still very new, and we’re learning more about it as time goes on.”
Dr. Shackleton also offered some insight into what has been learned so far about the effectiveness of the current vaccine against this new strain of coronavirus, and it sounds promising. “What we have learned to date is that the protein antigen that the vaccine makes to create antibodies continues to be present in the mutated varieties, and therefore the vaccine should still be effective,” she said.
She also encouraged those considering taking the vaccine not to abstain due to concerns about the new virus strain. “Viruses do tend to mutate, but often not enough that it would invalidate the vaccine.”
Currently the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being distributed to the Phase 1A groups which encompasses all healthcare workers, including pharmacists and lab staff, as well as long-term care staff and residents. Once those tiers are complete the vaccine will be given to the Phase 1B group, consisting of all remaining hospital employees as well as individuals aged 75 and above.
Jeremy Eschliman, Health Director for Two Rivers, shared in a statement that the department is working very hard to get the vaccine distributed to all Phase 1A groups in the district so they can begin vaccinations on the Phase 1B groups. In order to expedite that process the health department is asking residents who want to receive the vaccine to add their name to the list and complete a short survey. Two Rivers will then contact you when the vaccine is available for your population.
Two Rivers Public Health Department will be offering the vaccine in phases set forth by Federal plans and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Healthcare providers and residents of long term care facilities are placed first on the list. Starting in the next phase of the plan, individuals who are at the highest risk of the poorest outcome and individuals who have a great deal of contact with the public are addressed. Next, the plan focuses on people who are in congregate living situations, like colleges. Finally, the vaccine will be available to the general public. Once the vaccine is available to the general public, TRPHD will offer drive through vaccine sites.
Tentatively Two Rivers expects to complete the Phase 1A tier by early February and begin Phase 1B later this month. By mid March Phase 1C vaccinations should begin, which includes those aged 65-74 and anyone with high-risk medical conditions. Phase 2, the general population, is expected to begin in late May. Keep in mind this timeline is very tentative.
“Currently we are working with the health department and are thinking that we should be receiving the vaccine to give to those age 75 and above by the end of the month,” said Alisa Crown, Gothenburg Health Clinical Program Manager. “Currently we have not heard an exact date but are following the tentative vaccination timeline that Two Rivers has put into place. We are ready and excited to be able to provide our community with the vaccine.”
In the meantime, the teams at Gothenburg Health and Two Rivers encourage everyone to continue to remain diligent about wearing masks, handwashing and avoiding large gatherings. There is light at the end of the tunnel.