COVID-19 vaccines are great news for spelling a potential end to the pandemic ravaging the globe. But they’re also confusing news, with different brands of vaccine available, red tape involved in getting them, and medical questions aplenty.

Katie Logan, chief consumer and strategic planning officer at Piedmont Healthcare.

To help get a clearer view of this light at the end of the tunnel, the Reporter reached out to a local expert. Katie Logan is chief consumer and strategic planning officer at Piedmont Healthcare, the parent company of Buckhead’s Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and many other healthcare facilities, where she is overseeing the planning of the system’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

She provided her answers on Jan. 27, and information may change along with the science and the process. For updates, see the websites of Piedmont Healthcare and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tell us a little bit about the vaccines that are available and how they help in the pandemic fight.

Right now we have two vaccines that we are distributing, Pfizer and Moderna, both of which are two-dose vaccines.

The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage (between minus-112 and minus-76 degrees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It has an efficacy rate of 95%, according to data from its clinical trial. The booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine comes 21 days after the first dose.

The Moderna vaccine may be stored at between minus-13 and 5 degrees. The Moderna vaccine has an efficacy rate of more than 94%, according to data from its clinical trial. The second dose for the Moderna vaccine comes 28 days after the first.

In the coming weeks, Johnson & Johnson is expected to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization for its vaccine, which is also being tested as a single-dose vaccine.

Vaccines, combined with our other ongoing public health strategies, are our best options to bringing an end to this pandemic.

Should we be concerned about which manufacturer’s vaccine we get? Is one more effective than another? Can we choose our brand?

No, you should not be concerned and, no, you may not choose. You will receive what the provider has on hand at the moment. As demonstrated by the clinical trials, the efficacy rates for both are very similar and the vaccines’ respective data indicates that they have very high efficacy rates.

The “1A” terminology for phases of who gets the vaccine is confusing for many people. What phase are we in, when does the next one come, and how can we keep track of it?

We remain in Phase 1A, which includes healthcare workers, first responders and people over 65, as well as their caregivers. It also includes residents of long-term care facilities and their workers. The governor, working in concert with the Georgia Department of Public Health, will determine when that group will be expanded. According to DPH, almost 750,000 people have been vaccinated in Georgia. Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp said there are 2 million Georgians in the Phase 1A group.

The rollout of the vaccine has been confusing for many of us. While vaccination facilities were reasonably clear, registrations filled up almost immediately, vaccines ran out, websites crashed, and updated information is sometimes hard to get. Why is this process so messy and why aren’t there enough vaccines for everyone? 

Georgia currently receives 120,000 doses of vaccine a week, as allocated by the federal government. Until this week, 40,000 of those had been going to long-term care facilities. That left the remainder to be divided up among the state’s various public health districts and providers enrolled for distribution. Demand has exceeded supply. As supply increases, we expect these issues to work themselves out. That 50% increase in allocations to public health districts and providers should start to help to alleviate the problem.

How important is the second dose or “booster shot”? Will it be rolled out in the same way with the same phases, and when would that happen? 

The science indicates that to reach the vaccines’ maximum efficacy rates of 94% and 95%, the second dose is required. We have already begun administering second doses to our employees, the first of whom were vaccinated on Dec. 17. We began vaccinating patients 65 and older on Jan. 11. Accordingly, those patients will begin to receive their second doses in February, depending on which vaccine they received. We are booking second-dose appointments for patients once they have received their first dose.

We have heard of some technically ineligible people receiving the vaccine because providers prioritize delivering it rather than throwing out an opened dose. Is that something we can strategize to receive at a doctor’s office or grocery store if our timing is good?

A major priority for any organization providing vaccinations is to avoid wastage, but these circumstances are random at best. Like others, we require appointments, which helps us manage our inventory daily and avoid waste.

Should people make any special preparations on the day they are vaccinated? Are there common side effects or other medical concerns?

Common side effects include body aches, fever, chills and soreness at the injection site, as also experienced with other vaccines. So, in some cases, people are opting to “pre-medicate” with acetaminophen or ibuprofen before receiving the vaccine, which is perfectly acceptable.

Once we get the vaccine, do we still need to follow COVID-19 safety precautions? Can we still carry and transmit the disease?

Yes, it is recommended that people should continue to take public health mitigation strategies — wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands — even after being vaccinated. For now, the science is unclear as to whether people who have received the vaccine might still be able to transmit COVID-19 if they become infected.

What is a trustworthy resource for updates about the vaccines and their availability in our communities within DeKalb and Fulton counties?

Consult the websites of your local providers and the Georgia Department of Public Health. The DPH has a vaccine locator page, which can be found here:

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John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.