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Patients encouraged to report side effects of COVID vaccine through app

Matt Talavera, a pharmacist for CVS fills a syringe with the vaccine outside the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP)

Labs, health care providers, public health folks, and probably even those in the state government are all stretched to the limit right now, says Dr. Keith Jerome, head of the UW Virology Lab. But the big challenge right now is having enough resources to get the COVID vaccine out and into people’s arms.

Head of UW Virology Lab answers your vaccine questions

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross asked Dr. Jerome about his thoughts on the debate of delaying or skipping the second dose of the COVID vaccine order to be able to vaccinate more people, quickly.

“The reason that really smart people disagree about things like postponing the second dose or cutting the doses in half is we just don’t have the data to really know for sure which is the right thing to do,” he said. “We know for sure that when you get your first dose of vaccine, you actually get some protection. It’s not as good as after your second dose, but it’s — at least with the Moderna vaccine — there’s evidence it’s probably about 80% protection.”

“The trouble with that study is that then all those people who got the first shot, got the second shot a month later, and so we don’t know how long that would have lasted, you know, how fast would it go away, these things,” Jerome added. “So what happens if that really only lasts a month or two, then all these people become susceptible to infection again? What if the second dose doesn’t work as well if you wait two months? These are the uncertainties we just don’t know. And that’s why some people say we can’t risk that, other people look at that 80% protection, and they think, ‘well, this is great. We should get as many people with that level protection as we can.'”

Dr. Jerome says both are reasonable suggestions, but both are sort of guesses.

“We know how to answer these questions scientifically, it just takes time. And we haven’t had that time yet to figure out what the best approach is,” he said.

For now, there is a system in place to monitor any side effects that vaccine trials may not have picked up.

“When you get vaccinated, you should be offered the opportunity to download an app that was basically made by CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, and essentially, what the app does is it asks you to put in your phone number and says, ‘do you mind if we text you once a day for the next week and then occasionally thereafter, just to find out how you’re doing with the vaccine?,'” Dr. Jerome explained.

He says he did it, and received a text asking how he was feeling, with boxes to check, asking if you had a sore arm, if you had to miss work. He says he had a sore arm two days after the shot, but nothing else.

“It takes about 45 seconds, and then they say thank you and you’re done,” he said. “So the more people who participate in that, the more we’ll know if there are rare troubles with the vaccine. Right now, it seems to be really well tolerated. It sounds like people more often have a reaction to the second dose where they feel tired, some people have to stay home from work just with fatigue that day and, again, those sort of body aches, [but] that’s a sign that it’s working. So you want to see that, actually.”

Unfortunately, Jerome says there have been a few reports of someone who got the vaccine still getting COVID as the vaccines are approximately 95% effective in preventing infection. However, he says, the vaccines seem to be even better at preventing severe disease.

“Even if you’re one of those unlucky 5% who got COVID anyway despite getting a vaccine, you don’t end up in the ICU, you don’t end up on a ventilator, and [those] people don’t die of COVID,” he said. “So, you know, that’s a great thing. This is about the best vaccine that exists in terms of its just ability to prevent its target disease.”

“So when people get the opportunity to get the vaccine, I would really encourage them to do so.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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