By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Daily Sitka Sentinel Staff Writer
January 26, 2021 – A COVID-19 vaccination means an extra layer of protection for the individual, but Sitka’s Public Health Nurse said it doesn’t mean you should drop other precautions.
“After your vaccination – even both shots – you still need to practice usual pandemic precautions,” public health nurse Denise Ewing said. “Stay clear of crowds, continue to wear good masks in public, wash your hands and practice good hygiene and staying six feet or more away from people outside your household.”
Ewing, who was scheduled to get her second dose of Pfizer today, said receiving two doses of the vaccine provides protection against the virus but doesn’t mean you should resume pre-pandemic practices.
She noted Sitka’s high vaccination rates, with more than 20 percent of eligible residents receiving a first or second dose. The state of Alaska has the highest vaccination rate in the nation. Ewing said that’s good news for moving forward, but the vaccines are one of many “layers” of protection needed. She said the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are definitely part of the picture for controlling the spread of the virus.
The December issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine provides some protection after 12 days, with the efficacy rising to 52 percent a few weeks later (around the time the second dose is administered), Ewing said. A few weeks after the second dose, the efficacy rises to 95 percent.
Results were similar for Moderna, Ewing said, with the efficacy rate at 51 percent two weeks after the first dose and 94 percent two weeks after the second dose.
Pfizer doses are given three weeks apart, and Moderna, four.
“Whether you get the Pfizer or Moderna, you’re still getting 94-95 percent efficacy,” Ewing said. “However that’s not 100 percent – it means one out of 20 who get vaccinated can still get moderate to severe infection. That’s one of the reasons we continue to practice pandemic precautions.”
She said because the vaccines are new, a number of questions related to those who have been vaccinated remain. Those include: “Is it possible to get infected? Is it possible to be asymptomatic, and be infected and be able to shed the virus? They’re studying that right now.”
She added, “In the public health world if we don’t have a definitive answer, we act like the answer is yes.”
That means health providers are recommending a continuation of precautions for now, “until new studies have been done and we have more answers,” she said.
Vaccinations are an important part in the goal to protect individuals and reduce the amount of virus circulating in the air, which may eventually lead to a reduction in precautions, she said.
“Eventually, we can look forward to relaxing mitigation measures but that’s not now,” Ewing said. “In the future we’re going to have to learn to live with this. Likely viruses will flare up from time to time and that will be the new normal. It’s not going to (disappear) but we’ll get better at protecting ourselves against it.”
While it appears Moderna and Pfizer will provide protection from the new COVID-19 variants being discovered, Ewing said, “to what degree, we don’t know.”
“There’s more to come on that,” she said, advising against “getting too caught up” in every aspect of the virus.
“Taking it all in and not letting it be overwhelming is a good proactive measure,” she said.
Ewing became state public health nurse in Sitka in October 2019. Since the pandemic struck she has helped put out information to the public, organized contact tracing, and worked on vaccination programs. SEARHC and Harry Race Pharmacy have been running separate vaccination clinics assisted by state public health and Sitka Fire Department. Ewing is also a liaison in the coordinated local response to the pandemic, which has included healthcare, city, education and emergency response leaders.
In February, Ewing will hold vaccination clinics in the small Southeast communities of Port Alexander, Port Protection, Point Baker, Port Armstrong, Hidden Falls and Little Port Walter. She said she also is working with local seafood processors on plans to vaccinate workers before the herring season, and to vaccinate others in congregate living and work settings who have not already been covered.
SEARHC reported today giving the first Pfizer shots to 1,259 individuals, and second shots to 618. Harry Race, which has been holding clinics at the fire hall, reported giving 320 first shots of the Moderna vaccine, and 107 first and second doses of Pfizer.
SEARHC has clinics for Pfizer vaccinations scheduled for January 27, 28 and 29. Both Harry Race and SEARHC announce clinics as vaccine becomes available.