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Dr. Rai explains how COVID vaccine creates immune response to virus

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 7:33 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain the virus. Instead, it contains a piece of genetic code that will help create a protein that will help your body fight off an infection.

“Your immune system will then react to that protein and create an immune response to that. And it will remember that immune response,” says Dr. Ashok Rai, Prevea Health President and CEO.

Dr. Rai joined us Thursday on Action 2 News This Morning to explain this very important information and tell us how the vaccine will be distributed in Wisconsin.

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com.

Looking for past segments with Dr. Rai? Find them here: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

VACCINE DISTRIBUTION HUBS

“The initial application process that the state asked for is to figure out who would be able to store it. That’s people with deep freeze, the deep-chill freezer. Those would be considered hubs. Healthcare workers, or healthcare organizations, will then be distributed from those hubs. So the state will say X clinic can get this many doses because they have that many appointments or that many healthcare workers, release that to that clinic and they’ll record that in a statewide registry and then it will keep going from there. Direct clinics won’t be getting shipments. Direct healthcare providers, nursing homes won’t be getting shipments. What the state is doing is a hub-and-spoke model. There will be hubs throughout the state that get the shipment and then from there it will be distributed.”

HOW DOES VACCINE WORK?

“Messenger RNA. What it is is it’s a little piece of genetic code. It’s not a piece of COVID-19. It’s not a piece of the virus. It’s a piece of genetic code that when it enters your body, it goes into your muscle cells, where the injection site is, and it tells those cells, it enters that cell, and it tells the DNA within that cell to create a protein. That protein is really similar to what’s on COVID-19 called a spike protein. That’s how COVID-19 infects you. So you’re not going to get COVID-19. You’re not being given COVID-19. But your body will produce a protein that it can react to. So your immune system will then react to that protein and create an immune response to that. And it will remember that immune response. That’s why we do a second dose a month later, to even get a bigger immune response, because the first one’s just not good enough. You get two of those. Your body’s built up an immune response. After it’s done with that mRNA, your body destroys that so it’s not going to stick around and keep making it. That’s why you need the two doses. And then you’ve got this memory. Hopefully it’s a year. Hopefully it’s much longer than a year. That you will, when you’re actually exposed to COVID-19, it will enter your body and your body will say, ‘Not today. You’re not coming in here today. You’re not going to replicate. We have an immune defense system against you.’ So you will not get COVID-19. And if you do get it, it won’t be a serious infection. I think that’s what we saw in the trials that made us so happy, is that it had a 95-94 percent efficacy rate. And no one that did get infected got infected with a serious infection. So really, it’s great news.”

MRNA

“It should be destroyed by your own body. As soon as it triggers that DNA, it dissolves out. So it’s not one of those things we worry about long term effects due to it. But once again, we have to observe these patients for a long time to understand that better. But it’s pretty exciting technology. This will be from a public standpoint, on a broad scale, the first mRNA usage of it. It’s been used in smaller scales. This will be the first broad-scale use of it.”

IS DR. RAI GETTING THE VACCINE?

“I think people that see me on here don’t realize I see patients still. My patients are pretty vulnerable. I see patients in a nursing home. At any given time, in the last couple of months, I’ve seen up to 20 COVID-19 patients, and lost patients over this time. Will I get the vaccine? Yes. As a healthcare provider, I believe it’s a good thing to do. I think it’s a good thing for society to prevent the spread of the disease. But more importantly, as someone who has committed his career, as all of our healthcare providers are, if you’re a nurse, if you’re a medical assistant, if you’re a physician, you’ve committed your career to taking care of patients and keeping them safe. I will get it to keep my patients safe. And I will do it on air. I will get the vaccine and you guys can film it.”

GOP COVID PLAN

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans have released a package aimed at address COVID-19 in the state.

“First of all, I’m thankful that both sides are talking about it now and that’s a good thing. I think the suggestions, some are valid around testing. Other ones that concern us is we don’t want politicians in vaccine distribution. You want that to be a scientific method driven by public health. You want to make sure that school systems can make their own decisions locally because resources are different. But it’s great that they’re talking and hopefully the conversations will lead to some real good solutions.”

LONG-LASTING SYMPTOMS

Viewer Sandy had COVID and pneumonia. Fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog continue. Where does she turn?

“Unfortunately it’s hard to get data on this group of patients. Remember, we’ve only had nine months of COVID and now we’re starting to see the long haulers, or people who have had effects of COVID for a long time. And this is, unfortunately, not as uncommon as you might think, to the point where we actually have a clinic now at Prevea just to take care of these patients, to get them plugged in to respiratory therapy, to physical therapy, to get tested for neuro-psych to see what’s going on with their fog. There are a lot of different complications that we’re seeing long term. Some that we know of, and some that we don’t even know of yet. That’s why we’re starting to work with this group of patients more closely. So right now, I’d recommend going to your primary care physician. Start the process there.”

POST-THANKSGIVING SPIKE

“Any time we’re going to have gathering like we saw at Thanksgiving, like we see, even after Labor Day, where people are going to gather and they’re going to put their guard down, which unfortunately people have been doing, we’re going to see a spike. When that spike happens: anywhere from one week when we start to see the first cases; week two, week three starting to see cases; then we start to see hospitalizations. Those hospitalizations are already on top of a surge, are already on top of a Thanksgiving surge. So we’re very worried about the after-Christmas period.”

COVID RECOVERIES AND ANTIBODY TESTS

Viewer Bill had COVID-19 90 days ago. Should he get an antibody test?

“The only thing an antibody test is good for is to say if you should donate plasma or not. Way too many people are putting things into antibody tests that aren’t there, or weight into it. Such as, ’Should I get an antibody test to say, hey, I’m good to hang out with other people at Thanksgiving?’ Or ‘I got an antibody test and now my child doesn’t need to be tested because they had COVID.’ All that antibody test is saying is you’ve been exposed to COVID at some point. You’ve mounted some sort of immune response. It doesn’t say how long it’s going to be. It doesn’t say what kind of response it’s going to be. So it’s inappropriate to use the antibody tests that we have today for anything more than to say, ‘I can donate plasma.’”

COVID VACCINE INTERACTIONS

Will the vaccine interact with other medication?

“So far, what we’ve learned from the vaccine, and we’re waiting for that vaccine handout to come out from the drug makers, which will happen after the FDA approves it, so we’ll know a little bit more after the 10th, if it’s approved on the 10th. So far, the type of vaccine it is, shouldn’t have any kind of drug-to-drug interaction.”

STATES AND VACCINE DISTRIBUTION

A Green Bay resident who is currently in Tennessee wants to know if he’ll have to come back to Wisconsin to get the vaccine. Will he be able to get it in Tennessee?

“We don’t know that answer yet. We’re hoping that if you’re at risk, wherever you’re at, you can go into a facility that’s scheduling people who need COVID vaccines and getting them. That’s our hope. But it’s going to be a state-to-state decisions. What happens in Wisconsin here may not happen in Tennessee.”

DOES THE VACCINE KILL THE VIRUS?

“How the vaccine works is you need two doses, first of all, separated by about a month--28 days. And then a month after that is when we start to see protection. So that’s about 60 days. So if you have COVID while you’re getting the vaccine, it’s not going to help the current infection. All it’s going to do is try to prevent future infections.”

VACCINE AND BREAST FEEDING

Is the vaccine safe for people who are breast feeding?

“So once again, we’re going to get that handout here, in hopefully a week or two from the FDA. We don’t know how many breast feeding people were in the trial, even if they were allowed. So we’ll have to see. The mechanism of how this vaccine works, at least the first two, shouldn’t cause a problem with pregnancy or breast feeding. But we don’t know for sure yet.”

COMMUNION

Can COVID be spread during communion at church?

“Any time you’re, number one, it’s sharing food, sharing food utensils, but if the priest or the person handing the Host is touching another individual, the only way to truly be safe is to hand sanitize between every interaction, which is what they should be doing. Gloves would actually be a bad idea, because you’d be taking what you touched the first time and replicating it and keep adding it to everybody else. So really they should be hand sanitizing between every interaction.”

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