Three part town hall on vaccines begins Friday
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Friday, the first in a three-part virtual town hall series will be held covering all the latest information on the coming COVID-19 vaccination program. The sessions are part of the ongoing Steamboat Conversations series.
“My goal is to help people make the important decisions they need to make for themselves and recognize they are not just making decisions for themselves, but for the community,” said Dr. Ronald Krall, a panelist and former chief medical officer of GlaxoSmithKline. “We all want to be comfortable with the decisions we make about the vaccine, and the best way to be comfortable is to be informed.”
The informational series is being held in collaboration with Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Pilot & Today and UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
The series will take place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the next three Fridays.
“Information can reduce fear,” said Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington, who is also one of the panelists. “I want people to make an informed choice about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. As with all vaccines, the benefit of getting vaccinated is not just about the person who receives the shot, it is also about the responsibility we all have to protect others in our communities by increasing the herd immunity and reducing the ability of the virus to continue spreading in our communities and threatening the lives of others.
“Vaccines are the key to ending this pandemic, just like vaccines ended smallpox and polio,” Harrington added.
On Friday, the focus of the session will be on how vaccines are made, tested and approved. The Dec. 11 panel will look at the first vaccines and their efficacy and safety, and on Dec. 18, the conversation will shift to Routt County’s plan for immunization.
The Dec. 11 panel will include Dr. Thomas Campbell, a virologist and infectious disease specialist at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. He is leading UCHealth’s clinical trial of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine and has had a first-hand look at the process from day one.
In addition to Krall and Harrington, other panelists include Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith and Dr. Laura Sehnert, Yampa Valley Medical Center’s chief medical officer.
Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman will moderate the series.
It is possible, Krall said, the first vaccines will arrive in Routt County before the end of the year.
The informational series is being held at the same time the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be going through the emergency-use authorization process.
Harrington said the county is currently waiting to see if the first shipment of vaccines will be enough to do more than what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has designated as “1a” — inpatient health care providers. He doesn’t know how frequent the shipments will be, but they will be based on population.
The first shipment could come the third week of December, Harrington said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met Tuesday to vote on who will be prioritized for the vaccines.
And the immunization effort will be one of — if not the largest — mass vaccination program in human history.
“There’s a saying in the public health world,” Krall said. “Vaccines don’t work — vaccinations work. In order to prevent the spread of a disease like this and minimize the effects of the pandemic on our lives and the economy and education system, enough of us need to become vaccinated to make it impossible or very unlikely for the virus to spread.”
However, Krall said it is only fair that everyone gets to make their own decision and be able “to recognize the uncertainties and unknowns and risks — and place that risk in a reasonable context.”
Some of those unknowns at this point include the possibility of the rare adverse consequences and how long the vaccines will render people immune, Krall said. Those unknowns will be closely monitored but will only be known with more time.
As Pfizer and Moderna go through the approval process, Krall said additional data will be released in coming weeks. The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine committees will meet on Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization and on Dec. 17 for Moderna’s request.
The approval is based on three things, Harrington said.
“The vaccine must be safe, the vaccine must be at least 50% effective and the vaccine can be reproduced reliably and safely,” he explained.
Harrington stressed the process goes through many independent bodies.
“The most important thing for us to know is that any approved vaccine is safe and effective,” he said. “The vaccines have followed a development process similar to previous vaccines in the United States.”
Krall reminds people to be patient with the process, which is expected to last for at least four to six months.
“It’s going to be really important for the community to continue to do all the things we are doing today to combat the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
He said mathematical models show more death and illness will be prevented if the spread of the disease has been minimized at the start of the vaccination program.
“So many people — health care workers, frontline workers, the elderly and their caregivers, community members — are anticipating the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine as a step forward in the pandemic,” Sehnert said. “As a practicing emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen firsthand how this virus can impact people’s health and their loved ones. But please, regardless of when the COVID-19 vaccine arrives and whether or not you receive it, please continue doing your part to slow the spread by wearing a mask, washing your hands, maintaining physical distance, staying home if you’re not feeling well, getting tested if you’re showing symptoms and keeping personal gatherings small.”
Both Krall and Harrington said they are hopeful about the first vaccine that may be here in just a few weeks.
“This is the game changer for which we have been waiting,” Harrington said. “An effective vaccine will allow us to return safely to the social and economic life we so yearn to see again.”
“We are all eager to see the data in much more detail,” Krall said.
But based on what has been released, Krall said “it’s very encouraging.”
Still, Krall is very worried about the current numbers in Routt County, and those numbers getting worse with the holidays.
“We all need to be really, really careful. … But I do think there is light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to make sure we do the things needed to get to the end of the tunnel.”
Questions for the panels can be submitted in advance to Schlichtman at email@example.com.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.