Responding to

“May your troubles be less, your blessings be more,
and nothing but happiness come through your door.”

 Irish Blessing
The COVID-19 vaccine seems to be on most people's minds these days. More precisely . . . when it will become available to the public.

Last Wednesday, Health Secretary-Designate Dr. Tracie Collins gave an update on the COVID-19 vaccination push in New Mexico. She said that, after healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and first responders, the Department will move to vaccinating elderly people and people with serious health conditions. The Department, which is managing the receipt and distribution of all COVID-19 vaccines for the state, is sill working out the order in which everyone will be eligible to receive the vaccine.

New Mexico is following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, although not every state is. The ACIP is an independent committee within the CDC that provides advice and guidance on the control of vaccine-preventable diseases. Their recommendations break down distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine into two distinct phases. Phase 1 is divided into three sub-phases: 1a; 1b; and 1c.

Phase 1a, which began when the first doses arrived in the state, includes front-line healthcare personnel who are working with people infected with, or who are likely to be infected with, COVID-19 and residents of long-term facilities such as nursing homes. Nationwide, there are 24 million people estimated to be in Phase 1a. Phase 1b, totaling 49 million people, includes front-line essential workers and people age 75 and older. Phase 1c includes other essential workers, people between 65 and 74, and people as young as 16 who have underlying medical conditions. There are an estimated 129 million people in Phase 1c. Phase 2 includes all people age 16 and older.

One big question for Kitchen Angels and our volunteers is whether we fit into Phase 1b or even 1c. Remember that Kitchen Angels, as well as other food service agencies working with at-risk people, was designated an "essential service" under the state's initial public health order. That status hasn't changed. And although we've been contacted by several local health care provider groups, we don't yet know when Kitchen Angels volunteers and staff will be eligible for vaccination. “It’s a matter of [how many] doses we receive and getting them pushed out,” Dr. Collins explained. “Then, making sure we’ve covered a given group before we move to the next group.” She said the Department hopes to get the elderly and chronically ill vaccinated in late January and early February.

So, we wait. And while we wait, we mask up, maintain physical distances, and continue with all of our risk limiting practices that have kept us and our clients safe for the past ten months.

Now is not the time to let down our guard.
And while we wait, here are some questions and answers about getting the vaccine and what being vaccinated will actually mean.

How many shots will I need to get?
The two vaccines that have been approved for use in the US to prevent COVID-19 both require two shots to be effective. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which hasn't yet been approved for use in this country but has elsewhere, also requires two shots. According to the CDC, Johnson & Johnson has a vaccine in the last phase of clinical trials that uses one shot.

How long will it take for the vaccine to protect me?
Vaccine effectiveness varies by individual. It typically takes a few weeks for our bodies to build immunity after vaccination. That means it's still possible to become infected with the coronavirus just before or just after vaccination and become ill. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to build up our body's protection. And the full protection of the two-shot vaccines won't occur until after the second dose.

Do I need to pay for my vaccinations?
Vaccines that are purchased with taxpayer dollars, and both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being purchased by the federal government and distributed to each state, will be given to people at no cost. However, vaccination providers may charge an administration fee for giving the shots. Most likely, health insurance will cover the cost for any administrative fee. 

Will I still need to wear a mask after I've been vaccinated?
Yes. Until public health experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools we have to help stop the pandemic. These include covering our mouth and nose with a mask, washing our hands often, and staying at least six feet away from other people. Vaccination combined with all of our other practices offers the best protection from getting and spreading COVID-19. 

It's important to remember that the two vaccines being distributed were studied for only two months, so the long-term protection is still unknown. In addition, it's not yet known whether a vaccinated individual can still spread the virus.

Will the vaccine make me sick?
So far, the vast majority of reported side effects are like those that occur with getting a flu shot and include some discomfort at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, joint pain, and fever. Side effects typically last no more than one or two days. Some people have reported more significant side effects after the second vaccination.

According to the CDC, if you've had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy for another disease, you should talk to your doctor before getting the COVID-19 vaccine. People with a history of severe allergic reactions to things such as different foods, pets, bee stings, mold or pollen, or latex should be vaccinated. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of allergic reactions to medications may also get vaccinated.

Will the vaccine work against the new strain of coronavirus I've been hearing about?
Stuart Ray, MD, and Robert Bollinger, MD, both infectious disease experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, are confident the current COVID-19 vaccine will work against the latest strain of the coronavirus. “There is no evidence at this point that immune responses driven by current vaccines would not work against this new strain. The antibodies created by the current vaccines should still work.”

When will I find out when I can get vaccinated?
That's the big question. The state has set up a vaccine registration site to make it easier for folks to receive updates from the Department of Health and to let individuals know when they are eligible to receive their vaccination. How that system will work as the state moves through the different phases remains to be seen.

It's frustrating that we don't know very much. But, as we learn more, Kitchen Angels will keep you and our clients as up-to-date as possible. In the meantime, please continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.