Local leaders discuss COVID-19 vaccine prioritization, side effects and more during virtual panel discussion

Clockwise from top left, panelists Jennifer Schrimsher, Ruaa Hassaballa, Tiffany Lewis and Kathy Colson are pictured during a virtual COVID-19 panel discussion on Feb. 23.

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, local health leaders say that prioritizing people for the shots isn’t as simple as it looks, and that the size of the county’s weekly allocations depends on how quickly it distributes the shots it has.

In a virtual panel discussion about testing, vaccination and equity on Tuesday night, Brian Bradfield, associate vice president of ancillary services at LMH Health, discussed the importance of timely vaccine distribution in response to a question about subprioritization within the different groups being vaccinated as part of Phase 2.

“One thing we all need to keep in mind is our allocation per week is directly proportional to how quick we can get vaccinations out to the community,” he said. “So the slower we go, the less doses we receive.”

Bradfield said giving higher priority to certain subgroups of people is something that is discussed in vaccination meetings, and that while it could potentially help in some areas, it could also negatively affect other areas. He said subprioritization could require access to additional data, and that it could be difficult and time-consuming to acquire that information.

It could also lead to equity issues, Bradfield said. For example, he said, it might seem like a good idea to prioritize people in the 65-plus age group who have medical conditions over those who don’t. But that would be based on an assumption that everyone in that age group saw a physician regularly, and those who did not regularly see a physician would then be left out.

“So our goal is to try to reach as many people as quickly and easily and safely as possible to get the vaccinations,” he said, adding that leaders were doing the best they could to serve the community.

Four other panelists joined Bradfield Thursday night for the discussion. They were Jennifer Schrimsher, an infectious disease doctor at LMH Health; Tiffany Lewis, chief operations officer at Heartland Community Health Center; Ruaa Hassaballa, the COVID-19 testing equity project manager at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health; and Kathy Colson, interim clinic manager for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

The event was conducted in a question-and-answer format, with both live and pre-submitted questions. And the topics ranged from the future vaccine distribution schedule to the vaccines’ side effects to other equity concerns.

With regard to the side effects, Schrimsher said that the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine could produce a stronger reaction than the first one. The first dose primes the immune system, she said, and by the time a person receives a second dose, their body is alert and ready to react immediately. Schrimsher added that younger people tended to have more robust responses to the vaccine than older people because their immune systems were generally more active. The bottom line, she said, is that after receiving the first dose, one’s immune system is “primed and ready to go, so it attacks things more quickly and more vigorously.”

If a person does not have a reaction to the vaccine, however, that does not mean the vaccine did not work, Schrimsher said. People can take pain medication if they have side effects from the vaccine. Pain medication should be taken after vaccination, not before, “just because there’s not a ton of data,” Schrimsher said.

In response to a question about when the county will move to Phase 3 of the state’s distribution plan, Lewis said the county would wait until the state decided to move to Phase 3. Bradfield said leaders were discussing what Phase 3 might look like in order to be prepared.

After a question about whether vaccines are only available to American citizens, Colson said proof of residency is not necessary to receive a vaccine.

Schrimsher said in the Zoom chat box that it was important for the community to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. She said the community would need to get closer to herd immunity and keep the number of cases low “before we can back off” of those protocols. She also wrote in the chat box that although vaccinated people could still spread COVID-19, “there is some early data coming out that shows that might be a fairly low percentage.”

In COVID-19 testing news, Hassaballa said that there would be a free COVID-19 test handout event on Saturday in the Merc’s parking lot. People can drive by and pick up COVID-19 tests to take home. The Merc’s address is 901 Iowa St., and the event will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A full video of Tuesday night’s event can be found on the City of Lawrence’s Youtube channel: youtube.com/user/lawrenceksvideo.



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