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Life After COVID Vaccination: Local Doctors Weigh In

Phil Roeder/Flickr

For the past few months the biggest issue with the coronavirus vaccine has been getting an appointment to get the shots. And the recent winter weather around the country didn’t help. But according to Dr. Rudy Seelmann, the corporate director of pharmacy for Baptist Health Care, the pressure on the supply chain is beginning to ease bit.

“We are getting supply in each week," said Dr. Seelmann. "It’s not ubiquitous, but we are getting supply. We’re able to vaccinate one to two thousand folks per week, and then you couple that with other pharmacies as well. So we’re definitely doing as much as we can.”

And the numbers bear that out. As of February 23, nearly 85,000 people have gotten at least one of the two shots in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties. Dr. Seelmann says those vaccinations have proven to be extremely effective in preventing serious illness from the coronavirus. “It’s typically 7 to 14 days after your second vaccination dose that you’ll be at your maximum immunity from the vaccination series. We use the Moderna vaccine (at Baptist), and that one provides about 95% immunity to the coronavirus, per their studies. The Pfizer one is right there also, it’s right there at 94%.”

So with the vaccine being that effective, what’s next? How normal a life can a fully vaccinated person live?

“You can certainly feel a little bit more comfortable about visiting your loved ones,” said Dr. Peter Jennings, the chief medical officer for the Ascension Sacred Heart Health System. He says that being vaccinated gives you a lot of protection from the coronavirus, but not 100% protection.

So the recommendation is to continue to wear a mask. For the time being.

“Now, I want to state on the record that I don’t think that this is going to be forever," said Dr. Jennings. "This isn’t a forever thing where people are going to have to wear a mask 10 years from now. But, while we’re building up herd immunity, and you’ve probably heard (about) that, herd immunity, it still is recommended that you wear a mask. One, because the vaccine is not 100% effective, but two, the other part of this that they don’t know is even if you’ve had a vaccine, can you be an asymptomatic carrier? And what I mean by that is can you walk around with this virus stuck up in your nose, and you be perfectly fine because you’re vaccinated and your immunity can kick it out of your respiratory system but it still remains in your nose? So if you sneeze, blow your nose, cough (or) whatever you could still, theoretically, expel a live virus out into the public and contaminate and infect others.”

The two vaccines in use in our area are around 94 or 95% effective, which simply means that, on average, if 100 people get the vaccine, five or six may still end up getting infected with COVID. But Dr. Seemann says even then the vaccine still has benefits.

“Even folks (who were vaccinated and still) become infected, similar to the flu vaccine, the infection is made less severe by being someone who has been vaccinated. So the vaccine prevents us from getting sick, but if we do get sick it can also lessen the severity of the illness.”

And if you do get infected with COVID-19, do you even need to get the vaccine at all?

“The vaccines actually produce more antibodies than (in) someone who is infected with what we would call wild-type COVID Virus or coronavirus” said Seelmann.

Most medical professionals and officials say that people who recover from COVID-19 have, at best, a 90 day immunity to the coronavirus. The immunity from the vaccine lasts longer. We just don’t know how much longer, at least not yet. Dr. Jennings says that’s the biggest question about the vaccine right now.

“They just don’t know right now," said Jennings. "And, in large part, it may also be dependent upon how fast this virus can mutate to a strain where this vaccine doesn’t work. So the jury’s out. You know, is this going to be like a flu vaccine where every year the flu is altered enough that you have to get a new vaccine, or is this something more like measles/mumps/rubella where you don’t have to (get boosters) that frequently, if ever.”

“I think that’s probably the biggest and one of the most common questions I get asked is ‘will this be an annual shot or is there potential for longer (immunity)?" said Dr. Seelmann. "And we just don’t know the answer to that, but those studies are ongoing.”

Dr. Seelmann also says other studies are being done to see how the current vaccines work on the coronavirus variants that have begun circulating around the country, especially the one from South Africa that seems to be causing the most concern among health officials.

Dr. Jennings also says that the vaccine will have a huge benefit for his family this spring.

“I have a dad that’s going to be 85 and a mom that’s going to be 80 and they have both received their second vaccine and we are so looking forward to Easter to be able to spend some time together.”

For a lot more information on COVID-19 vaccines and their availability, go to floridahealthcovid19.gov

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.