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FAQ: What You Need To Know As The COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives in Kansas City

Coronavirus testing at Truman Medical Center
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
A healthcare worker at Truman Medical Center prepares a COVID testing kit for a drive-through customer.

The University of Kansas Health System says it could begin administering a COVID-19 vaccine by Friday, which a doctor hopes will be a "game-changer" in the fight against the pandemic.

Frontline workers at The University of Kansas Health System could begin receiving their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as this Friday, the day after its approved by the federal government.

“I think this is a game-changer for COVID-19," Dr. Matthias Salathe, KU’s Chair of Internal Medicine, said Monday.

"We're getting sort of tired of being exposed to COVID-19 and you see that in the general population, there is tiredness of the social distancing, of not coming back to what we believe is our normal life. This is a chance to actually break out of this cycle,” he said

Missouri reported Monday that 77 people died of the coronavirus in the last seven days, a figure that has dropped slightly from last week. In all, 4,194 Missouri residents have died of COVID-19, according to the state's dashboard. In Kansas, there have been a total of 1,786 deaths, according to a state website.

In anticipation of the vaccine’s rollout in both states, KU health experts are answering some of the general public’s questions this week.

When will the first round of vaccinations in Kansas City start?

Those health care workers with the most exposure to patients could get it by Friday.

Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said pharmaceutical company Pfizer is already shipping its vaccine to hospitals across the country in anticipation of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration meeting on Thursday.

Stites said the hospital can begin its first round of vaccinations as soon it’s approved. The Centers for Disease Control will determine the number of doses by state and then the state will decide how many each hospital receives.

Hospitals will be given flexibility on who they choose to first receive the vaccine based on their individual needs, Stites said.

“For example, we're prioritizing those who are going to have a direct exposure to patients who have COVID-19, whether that's a physician or a nurse or a dietician or a social worker, or a respiratory therapist,” Stites said.

Stites said the hospital is also working with the state of Kansas and Wyandotte County to set up a plan to vaccinate those in long-term care facilities.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, announced last week that his office would have some 220,000 doses available and could finish with long-term care residents and health care workers by the end of the month.

Can I choose which vaccination I end up taking?

In the short-term, no. But in the long-term, maybe.

The general public isn’t anticipated to begin receiving the vaccine until late spring and KU experts said there could be a lot more versions of it on the market by then.

The FDA is expected to grant emergency approval to the leading vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are also expected to roll out their own early next year.

Salathe said that it shouldn’t make a significant difference which vaccine is used.

“I believe at this point in time it's more an issue of what can you get rather than what is better for you because both have been safe so far and both have been highly effective,” said Salathe.

KU health experts don’t anticipate those in the first rounds to have a choice on which vaccination they will receive, but later rounds might as more data comes out on each version.

Will there be side effects to taking the vaccine?

Recipients of the vaccine should expect some mild side effects, according to Salathe.

“There is no severe side effect that we are seeing, some fever, some headaches, local soreness, and that's expected from most vaccines. Even if you get a flu vaccine, many people have some side effects at least locally,” Salathe said.

KU’s Dr. Kevin Ault, a member of the CDC Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, said 10% to 20% of recipients experienced these symptoms in trials for the vaccine.

He said the side effects of taking the virus are still much more mild than if someone were to contract COVID-19.

Does the vaccine infect me with COVID-19? Am I contagious to others?

Absolutely not, according to Salathe. While the vaccine will make an immune response against COVID-19, it does not contain the active virus.

“It is a piece of code to express one protein or a piece of a protein in your muscles to make an immune response. There is no contamination of the virus in these products and therefore you are really not contagious because you do not have the virus,” Salathe said.

Because recipients are not infectious, KU doctors are not recommending they quarantine after receiving the vaccine.

How long will it take the vaccine to start working after I get it?

Recipients won’t be completely safe from the virus after their first dose and two shots are needed for the vaccine to be fully effective, KU health experts said.

Because there are three to four weeks in between each dose, Salathe said it could be six to seven weeks until recipients are fully protected from the virus.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System, said because of this timeline it will be a while before mask and social distancing requirements are lifted.

“We need to make sure that the essential workers and our supply chains for foods and products are all set, our first responders, our police officers, our firefighters, all those people are healthy so that their departments aren't shut down because of illness,” said Hawkinson.

Hawkinson said numbers of community-based transmissions will need to significantly decline for restrictions to be lifted. He estimated this could begin to take place by October 2021.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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