Pittsboro, NC – With news over the weekend that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its first Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Chatham County Public Health Department (CCPHD) and its community partners will soon move forward with implementing the Chatham County COVID-19 vaccination plan, which has been in development for months, as part of the ongoing fight against the pandemic.
Representatives from the CCPHD, Chatham County Emergency Management, Chatham Hospital, Piedmont Health Services, and other local, regional and state partners have been meeting since late summer to prepare for an equitable, efficient and effective vaccine distribution. Following national and state guidance, the vaccine will be given first to individuals who work in healthcare settings at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure, those who will lead vaccination efforts in Chatham County, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. This grouping is also known as Phase 1a of vaccine distribution.
The full prioritization of vaccine distribution, following CDC guidance, will be as follows:
- Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 & Long-term care
- Every health care worker at high risk for exposure to COVID-19: doctors, nurses, and all who interact and care for patients with COVID-19, including those who clean areas used by patients, and those giving vaccines to these workers.
- Long-term care staff and residents: people in skilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes.
- Phase 1b: Adults at highest risk of severe illness and those at high risk for exposure
- Adults with two or more chronic conditions that put them at risk of severe illness as defined by the CDC, including conditions like cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes, among others.
- Adults at high risk of exposure including essential frontline workers (police, food processing, teachers), health care workers, and those living in prisons, homeless shelters, migrant and fishery housing with 2+ chronic conditions.
- Those working in prisons, jails and homeless shelters (no chronic conditions requirement).
- Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness
- Essential frontline workers, health care workers, and those living in prisons, homeless shelters or migrant and fishery housing.
- Adults aged 65 years or older
- Adults under 65 years old with one chronic condition that puts them at risk of severe illness as defined by the CDC.
- Phase 3: Students and critical industry workers
- College and university students.
- K-12 students when there is an approved vaccine for children.
- Those employed in jobs that are critical to society and at lower risk of exposure.
- Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination
For more on the phased vaccine distribution approach, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.
“We are excited for this important next step in our pandemic response, the authorization of a tested, safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19,” said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. “Like other communities around the country, vaccine distribution begins with those at highest risk, including healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes. It will be some time before the vaccine is widely available, and in the meantime, we must continue to limit close contact with others and wear our masks.”
About the Vaccine
On December 11, the FDA granted Pfizer’s request for an EUA after a thorough scientific review process that included more than 40,000 participants and no serious safety concerns. The vaccine has been authorized for two doses 21 days apart to individuals 16 years of age and older. More on the vaccine can be found here.
Like the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine currently being considered for an EUA, the Pfizer vaccine is about 95% effective against the virus. Similar to other vaccines, temporary reactions to the vaccine, including swelling at the injection site, fatigue, and headache, have been reported in the research trials. However, these reactions are a sign that your body is developing an immune response that will protect against COVID-19, and the vaccine cannot give someone the virus. All who receive the vaccine will be given patient education materials at the time of their vaccination.
“Due to these unprecedented times, development of the COVID-19 vaccine has been much quicker than what we have seen with prior vaccines,” said Dr. Rathika Nimalendran, CCPHD Medical Director. “I am confident in the excellent research and regulatory oversight to confirm vaccine safety and effectiveness prior to approval. I’m rolling up my own sleeve and am ready to get the vaccine as soon as I am eligible.”
The CCPHD is maintaining a regularly updated webpage about the COVID-19 vaccine at www.chathamnc.org/coronavirusvaccine. The page features FAQs about the vaccine and the distribution process and will be updated throughout the next few months in order to help keep Chatham County informed with reliable and trustworthy information.
Share Love, Not COVID
While the vaccine news is promising, COVID-19 continues to sicken a record-high number of individuals. On December 12, Chatham County reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases to date. The CCPHD urges Chatham County residents to continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings, wash their hands regularly, and, when the time comes, get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Now is not the time to let our guard down. As we wait, we will keep practicing the 3 Ws and wear our masks,” said Zelek and Dr. Nimalendran.
The CCPHD will be ramping up its communications efforts in the coming weeks to slow the spread of the virus, urging residents to #ShareLoveNotCOVID in Chatham County, and share information and updates about the vaccine. Residents are encouraged to share photos and other holiday-related messages on their social media with that hashtag. The CCPHD will be looking to share those posts on its Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/chathamhealth.