Urging patience and mask wearing, East Texas health experts gave a broad range of advice and fielded questions about vaccine accessibility, distribution and safety during a recent AARP Texas tele-town hall.
Dr. Paula McGaha, associate professor and chair for the Department of Community Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler and Dr. Jason Gelois, senior epidemiologist with the Northeast Texas Public Health District, praised the pace at which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. But McGaha cautioned that it will take time for everyone who wants to be vaccinated to get the shots.
“As of January 28, two million vaccines have been administered in Texas,” McGaha said. While waiting lists are taking a long time to move forward, residents are urged to be patient as wait times “should get better as we get more vaccines.”
In response to a caller’s question, McGaha emphasized the importance of wearing a mask after receiving both doses of the vaccine. While both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective at limiting the effects of COVID-19, research about the spread of COVID from vaccinated patients is still limited, McGaha said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask to limit the spread of viral material from person to person.
“We don’t know how the disease works and how it affects others around us," said Gelois. "We don’t know if it prevents us from being able to spread viral material from person to person. You may have the vaccine and not be affected, but if you have an exposure, you might still be able to spread it to other people.”
Another caller during the Tuesday (Feb. 9) conversation asked about the safety of the vaccine and asked whether it can adversely affect someone’s DNA.
“The answer is no,” McGaha said. “What the vaccine does is help your body create a spike protein, which creates an immune response” that helps the body fight off COVID.” Additionally, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been subject to multiple studies and, consequently, have been approved by the FDA and CDC as “safe and effective.”
When discussing the cost of the vaccine, McGaha mentioned that “some facilities will take medical information because they are charging your insurance for an administration fee.” But there is no cost for the vaccine. It is free,” McGaha said. Vaccines are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. They are also available without cost to people without insurance.
Gelois also made a point of saying how hard health officials are working during this pandemic. "We are in a critical time and we appreciate everyone's work," he said. "We are working hard to get the information but also to get the vaccine to everyone."
Residents in the Northeast Texas Public Health District (NETHEALTH), which includes the counties of Rains, Wood, Van Zandt, Smith, Gregg, Henderson, and Anderson, who have questions about the vaccine, or want to register should visit https://www.nethealthcovid19.org. Those without internet access can also call the NETHEALTH COVID-19 hotline at 903-617-6404.
More information can also be found at www.aarp.org/TxVaccine