December 17, 2020 – Vaccines for The Holidays

This will be a holiday season to remember, or maybe not so much. There is really no good news about the progression of spread of the coronavirus in Maryland and across the country, but there is great news about very effective vaccines coming online as this is written. The vaccines, if all goes well and people consent to receive them, will end an era of our lives that we will all be happy to forget.

We are getting a lot of questions about vaccine availability, safety, etc. Here is what we know right now:

The Pfizer vaccine approved for emergency distribution last week, and the Moderna vaccine, likely to gain similar approval tomorrow, will be the first to hit the market. Both vaccines utilize a new technology: The messenger RNA in the vaccines enters our cells, and directs them to manufacture a protein, similar to the spike protein on the coronavirus. Our immune system then forms antibodies to this protein, which, if we were to be exposed to the virus, would render it noninfectious. Both vaccines require two shots, an initial injection then one about a month later, to be completely effective. Both vaccines also need to be stored at very cold temperatures. (They can be thawed and remain effective at room temperature for 5 days and still work)

Astra Zeneca is seeking approval for a more traditional vaccine that utilizes a protein similar to the spike protein in the coronavirus to induce an immune response. This vaccine does not require cold storage (other than normal refrigeration temperatures), is effective after one dose, and is in general easier to produce. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is likely to be approved in January. Other vaccines, including one by Johnson and Johnson will likely be available by spring of 2021.

In terms of availability, the vaccines will be as rare as hen’s teeth for the next 4-6 weeks. By April they will be like ears of corn on an Iowa farm stand in July, if all goes well.  Will our office have access to the vaccines? We have not received any information on this to date. The company that we use for medical supplies, McKesson, will be a distributor of vaccines and so when they become more plentiful, we will likely receive a supply. It is more likely that CVS and Walgreen’s chain pharmacies will get the first supply of vaccine for the general public. Uncle Sam is supposed to pay for these, so don’t worry about the cost, that is, until your tax bill increases. But it will be the best money you ever spent.

As I am sure you have heard, the most frail among us and front line medical staff will be first in line to get vaccinated, as is appropriate.  Should you get the vaccine? YES! This is war folks. If enough people get this vaccine as soon as it becomes available, we will be drinking beer at a bar like it was 2019 before you know it. 60 to 70% of the population here and around the world needs to become immune to this sucker for it to be unable to spread efficiently and end its grip on our lives.

Will there be problems with the vaccine? Almost certainly, yes. Hopefully these will be limited to minor reactions such as low-grade fevers, short term malaise, etc. There have been reports of a few more serious allergic reactions in people who are hyperallergic to other allergens (nuts, foods etc.). Right now, if you fall into this category, you should wait a bit to get the vaccine until more information becomes available. In our office, we will all get the vaccine whenever our turn comes up.

Will we keep you informed about availability? Yes! We have received many emails with this question and rest assured, when we know something, we will send out information immediately.

Before enough of us get vaccinated, infectious disease experts are predicting that the next two months will be the worst of the pandemic, in terms of a spike in cases, hospital utilization, and death. Winter holiday gatherings will likely produce a spike of cases on top of the Thanksgiving spike. Though gatherings at this time of year are inevitable, please use your head. Your elderly relatives likely have another Christmas in them, so do your best to insure they get to see it. This should be the final spike in cases, followed by a precipitous drop off into the spring. Perhaps a mask burning party will be in order by Memorial Day.

We are now using an electronic prescription service. To minimize inaccuracies and duplicate medications, please call your pharmacy when you need a refill on a medication instead of using email or phone. We can then approve refills more quickly.

Our holiday schedule this year will be as follows.

* Friday December 18th, office closes at 1 pm for a (limited) Holiday Party

* Thursday, December 24th, office closes at 1 pm for Christmas Eve

* Friday December 25th, office closed for Christmas day

* December 28th to December 31st, office open until 1 pm for urgent matters only (no regular appointments scheduled.)

* January 1, 2021 (Yay 2020 is over) Office closed for New Year’s Day.

We will reopen on Monday, January 4th 2021 in a better mood. Here’s to the end of a pretty awful year with great hope for peace, prosperity, and happiness in 2021. Happy Holidays to all, and as always, we greatly appreciate your support of our practice.

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Severna Park Medical Associates sends out information pertinent to our patients’ health, announcements of closings, and office changes. Our patients can now use email, rather than a phone call, to communicate non-urgent information with us. We can also send lab results and other information to patients directly.