COVID-19 vaccination second-dosers breathe sigh of relief
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Feb. 2, 83-year-old Steamboat resident Elaine Dermody received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
“It was such a relief,” she said.
While there was excitement with the first shot, the time in between came with some anxiety, Dermody said. Reports of meager vaccine supplies worried her about whether there would be enough for her second shot.
“I was more emotionally elated with the second shot than the first,” she said. “I was thrilled to get the first shot — no question about it. I was even more thrilled to get the second.”
The joy has been palpable at every vaccine clinic, said UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek. “I don’t know there’s ever been such excitement to receive a vaccine.”
Reznicek helped staff one of last week’s vaccine clinics at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “It reminds us why we work in health care,” she said.
As of Friday, there have been more than 1,200 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination administered across Routt County. Close to 1,000 of those were given at the hospital, where Dermody received her shots.
Hundreds more people will receive second doses this week.
Up to this point, Reznicek said there haven’t been any reasons for concern there won’t be enough second doses for everyone who gets their first shot.
Dermody said she didn’t have much reaction to either shot — a little bit of a sore arm. After her second shot, she experienced minor fatigue.
More side effects are expected with the second shot, said Dr. Laura Sehnert, chief medical officer and emergency medicine physician at the hospital. “The body is doing what it needs to do.”
“The first vaccination primes the immune system to develop immune cells and antibodies,” explained Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington. “With the second vaccination, the immune system already has some of the pieces in place to respond and thus develops a mature response, as desired. People should not be surprised if they experience stronger — or more — symptoms after the second vaccination.”
The most common reactions, Sehnert said, include pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. “Those should only last a few days,” she said. And if anyone has concerns, Sehnert advises contacting their doctor.
“Locally, we have seen mostly mild reactions consisting of fatigue, headache, body aches and localized injection site pain,” reported Routt County Public Health Nurse Brooke Maxwell. “These side effects are essentially a sign that the immune system is working. There have been a few reports of ’COVID Arm,’ which consists of a more severe inflammatory response with greater redness, swelling and itching at the injection site. This is a delayed immune response and can appear anywhere from 48 hours up to eight days after the injection. It is not an allergic reaction to the vaccine, and it is acceptable to get the second dose if this occurs after the first round.”
Maxwell encourages people to report any reaction to the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
Harrington added that people previously infected with COVID-19 “will respond more robustly to the vaccine.” Sehnert said they are seeing younger people have more significant reactions to the vaccines than older people, possibly because they tend to have a heightened immune response.
At the same time, Sehnert said, if you don’t experience any reaction — that does not mean the vaccine isn’t working.
How does getting the second dose of the vaccine change things?
“I still feel I have to wear a mask and social distance,” Dermody said. “But I do feel I may be able to increase my bubble.”
That’s been the hardest part, she said — the social isolation and not being able to see friends and family.
“Just maybe — now we can share a cup of coffee together. Or maybe a meal,” she said.
She hasn’t seen her grandkids or most of her family in a year.
With some variation among studies, Sehnert said the Pfizer vaccine is reported to have maximum efficacy after about seven days and about 14 days for the Moderna vaccine.
Dermody received the Moderna vaccine. That means by early next week, she should statistically reach that 94.1% efficacy. Dermody knows there is still a chance she could get the virus or transmit it.
“The relief is that if I were to get the virus, I probably wouldn’t get a severe case,” she said.
“It is important to understand that the vaccines were developed to prevent illness and death. The trials measured this outcome,” Harrington said. “They did not measure whether or not immunized individuals could still have a low grade infection or carry the virus. We presume the vaccines will greatly reduce asymptomatic carriage, but ongoing trials should give definitive evidence of that. For now, vaccine recipients can consider themselves to be protected from hospitalizations, severe illness or death.”
When the pandemic hit, Dermody had just recovered from cancer. Her immune system was still compromised, and she was not at her normal strength.
With her age and “a little bit of asthma” Dermody knew her COVID-19 risk was high. “I knew I was not a good candidate for survival. That was very stressful.”
Dermody is grateful she lives with her and husband and close to her daughter and did not have to go through the pandemic or the cancer treatment alone.
“Even so, it’s been very challenging,” she said.
Dermody is more active — physically and socially — at 83 than most people a decade or more younger than her. In a typical year, she would travel and regularly see her family, which includes 10 grandkids — about half of those acquired through marriage — and ranging from age nine to 31.
She has a granddaughter who is thinking of coming to visit, but not stay with Dermody. She hasn’t decided precisely what she is comfortable with now that she is vaccinated.
“This is all relatively new,” she said. “I guess you cross those bridges when you get to them.”
Harrington affirmed Dermody — and everyone who receives both doses of the COVID-19 — have a much-reduced risk to their own health.
“Vaccinated persons will have a very low risk of serious illness if infected,” he said. “This may change their calculus on what risks they can take. For example, an older individual may now feel comfortable going to the grocery store or getting their haircut. I know that many of our vulnerable county citizens have literally remained holed up for most of the past year, which entails various other health impacts. Being vaccinated should help such individuals get out more and do other activities that they avoided before due to personal risk if infected from COVID-19.”
However, the vaccine is not yet a “golden ticket to freedom,” echoed Maxwell. Harrington said until there is more data, the recommendations are still to limit travel.
“I’m not going to get on an airplane and go anywhere just yet,” Dermody said. “I’m not going to get in a car and stay in a motel. I need to have it more under control than it is now. I still have to be super careful. But now I feel less vulnerable. I know if I were to get it, I would not die from it, which is a very comfortable feeling.”
More normalcy, Sehnert said, will come “once we get to the place where we get a significant amount of the population vaccinated. Until we reach that point, we all need to do our part to be as safe as we can.”
Harrington said he is hopeful there will be new recommendations coming soon for vaccinated people.
“Further evidence should be developed that proves that fully vaccinated individuals are of low risk to spread the virus and thus can engage in a wider range of activities and with more people,” he said.
Dermody said she sees things getting much better organized in terms of the process of getting a vaccine. “And the people working their tails off to make it happen are so wonderful and so kind. We are very fortunate to live in Steamboat.”
Sehnert said she’s thrilled to see the numbers climb for people getting second doses. Between the handful of vaccine administrators and public health department, “we’ve done a really spectacular job getting as many people vaccinated as soon as we can.”
Dermody said she had no hesitancy about getting the vaccine. She did her research and has a doctor for a daughter-in-law who said, “Whichever vaccine they offer — take it, and take it as soon as you can.”
And she is a vocal advocate.
“I try to explain how important it is for everyone to get the vaccine,” Dermody said. ”It’s the only way to get herd immunity. If more people get the shot — that will allow restaurants to open, get kids back in school and allow people to travel. It’s mindboggling to me — yet I know some who say they think they don’t want to get it. I’ve said everything I can possibly say to them about how important it is to get it — not just for themselves but for the whole country.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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