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“An awesome feeling”: Dr. Rai describes COVID vaccine experience

Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 7:17 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The first COVID-19 vaccines have been given to frontline health care workers in Green Bay. Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai was one of the first to get the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday. He talked about his experience on Action 2 News This Morning.

Outside of a sore arm and headache, he’s doing very well. “These are all normal, and also great. Because it means that my body is now developing an immune response to COVID-19, so the fact that I had a sore arm last night is something that I celebrated.”

Dr. Rai joins us Tuesdays and Thursdays on Action 2 News This Morning. Have a question? Email news@wbay.com.

View previous Dr. Rai segments here: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

HOW IS DR. RAI FEELING POST-VACCINE?

“I’ve got a little bit of a sore arm, slight headache. I’m tired, but that’s because you guys got me up at 4 in the morning because it’s Thursday. Other than that, I feel great, because I feel that it’s working. So, it’s an awesome feeling.

“These are all normal, and also great. Because it means that my body is now developing an immune response to COVID-19, so the fact that I had a sore arm last night is something that I celebrated.”

EMOTIONAL DAY

“A ton of emotion involved in this. I got home and started to process all of this. COVID-19 needs humans to replicate. It needs humans to live. Every human that is vaccinated is one less host for this virus. So the virus walks into a room and 10 people are vaccinated, the virus dies. Yesterday was the beginning of the end.”

AN AWFUL WAY TO DIE

“It may not be you the one dying. Maybe the next person, somebody you love. Remember, we can’t have people in the room with you. You’re on a ventilator for weeks. Sometimes, as many medications as we’re giving you, it’s like drowning for three weeks straight before you die. It’s just such an awful thing to see, to witness. The emotions of witnessing it, you just don’t want to ever wish upon anybody. Going through it, and the families, we want to be done with this virus. Take aside the death. The economic devastation, the personal devastation. We want to be done with this. This vaccination will get us there if everybody gets it.”

POSSIBLE ALLERGIC REACTIONS

“It’s very slim, but all the protections, if something happened, are there. And that’s really important, too. And understand that there’s a very tiny percentage. You go through questions and we try to prevent that, and if it does happen, that we’re there to take care of you. The three reactions that we know of, what we consider severe, anaphylactic, have all been treated. All the people are doing well now. It’s really important that if you have a history of allergies or reactions to immunizations that you have that discussion with your physician. That you go see an allergist, but you get this shot if you don’t have a history of it. The more people that do, the better off we’ll be.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

“I think our heads are still spinning. It took us over three hours to immunize 20 people. That may seem like we don’t have our act together, but no, we paused it every single step to make sure things are working well, to discuss it. Yesterday was dress rehearsal. Today we’ll do 90. Tomorrow we’ll do another 90. Next week we’ll start doing hundreds a day. We’ll keep growing. Like I said on Tuesday, aim small, miss small. We want to learn from every step. From printing labels, and such great work. It involves a coordinated team of pharmacy, lab, nursing, people who check you in. The unsung heroes behind the scenes--the IT team. To get all of the registrations right and to get the orders in right. It’s just been a team effort and a lot of people I probably didn’t name that deserve credit. It took a long time to get 20 in yesterday, hopefully shorter to get 90. We huddle right after to learn every time, because this is dress rehearsal to take care of our entire community going forward.”

MODERNA SHIPMENTS

“Super excited, if you think about it, because number one, it’s double the number of vaccines we got this week. Much easier to store. And now we can start getting vaccines in smaller sites, into rural areas. A lot of Wisconsin health care is rural. This is our opportunity to now to spread outside of the city and vaccinate even more people.”

VACCINE COST

How much does it cost to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

“It’s a good question. The federal government, through its funding of this vaccine, part of that was to purchase this vaccine for you. So you’ll pay nothing for the vaccine. The provider giving you the shot may charge you a very small amount to the insurance company to administer the vaccine. If you don’t have insurance, that will get waived. There’s no reason not to get this vaccine.”

TESTING DROP OFF

Why are COVID-19 testing numbers falling in Wisconsin?

“I think we’ve let our guard down. Unfortunately, people are ignoring their symptoms. We see it spreading. We’re seeing that Thanksgiving effect. We’ve seen the hospital numbers come down, but they’re not down to a point where we’re comfortable. A lot of people are ignoring symptoms. That runny nose that they think is a cold or allergies, get tested for COVID before you blame anything else. We’re just not testing enough people. You can see that. Our percent positivity is too high. We need to test more people to understand how many negatives we have out there, too. That’s just not happening. Testing sites are maybe 50 percent full. We’d like to see that 75-80 percent by the end of the week. I think people have definitely let their guard down.”

VACCINE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

What are the similarities and differences between the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine?

“Talk about the first similarity. They’re both an mRNA vaccine. So pretty similar in their design, and exactly similar in their mechanism of how they’re going to act. Both are two shots. The Pfizer shot is 21 days apart from each other, Moderna 28 days. That’s just how they studied it. Pfizer was studied in a younger population, so it’s 16 and up. Moderna will be 18 and up.

“Probably the single biggest difference for those of us who have to operationalize this is the temperature they both need to be stored at. The Pfizer vaccine at that ultra-cold temperature; the Moderna vaccine at your normal freezer temp or refrigerator temp.

“Other than that, the efficacy about the same: 94-to-95 percent efficacious. So both incredible. Both have the exact same safety profile. They’re both very, very safe.”

VACCINE SHIPMENTS

How many vaccines are being shipped out to states and local hubs?

“So it’s a very fluid discussion because we have to see what’s coming from the federal government to Wisconsin and how it’s being distributed. Most are being distributed to health care sites. Some are getting distributed to pharmacies to help immunize those in long-term care. So the numbers are a little variable. What we know so far: first round of Pfizer, about 49,700, I think is the number of Pfizer vaccines to hit the state; Moderna, we’re expecting over 100,000, a little over 100,000 next week. We’ll have to see what actually arrives and how it’s distributed.”

DOSES

“I think the first dose, second dose question is coming up a lot. As it should. It’s a concern. What the federal government has done is they’ve held back that second dose. They’ve got that. Whatever they’ve shipped to Wisconsin, let’s just take the round number, 50,000 first shots came to Wisconsin, they already had the next 50,000 ready to come to us. They’re only allowing us to store the first shot. In 21 days, or hopefully 20 days before the 21st day, we’ll have that second shot handy to do that. So they’re stored in that manner. At least at Prevea, the way our mechanism goes is that you don’t get to stand up until your second shot is scheduled. A safety backup to that is when you get your shot, the Wisconsin Immunization Registry gets an automatic message from our electronic medical record. Shot one was done for this person. And then the state will also help track when it’s time for shot two.”

WILL THE VACCINE SPOIL?

“Everybody’s worried because of the Pfizer vaccine and the temperatures it needs to be kept at. To be honest with you, we’ve been working through that for the last month. Got to actually see it this week. All of their freezers are temperature monitored, alarmed. There’s actually these reporting systems on top of every container to make sure that that vaccine is good and frozen, and it’s thawed appropriately before it goes into your arm.”

VACCINE AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

A viewer’s brother has autism and will need to be restrained to get the vaccine. Will he be able to get it at a hospital?

“We know there’s going to be a lot of special circumstances for patients when they get their vaccine. And one size does not fit all. What I would recommend what that person do, or any person, if you have a certain circumstance like that, please contact your primary care physician. They’ll be able to arrange those certain circumstances. This is not the first time we’ve had to deal with it. It won’t be the last. We want to make sure, once again, everybody that needs the vaccine--which is pretty much everybody--gets the vaccine.”

SNOWBIRDS

What happens if you get the first shot here in Wisconsin and then travel to your winter home out of state?

“As I explained earlier, the way the federal government is working, it’s working state by state. Probably those in Washington don’t know what a snowbird is. It’s an unfortunate part. I would recommend that you’re in the state for both because that’s how the shot is being allocated and being tracked. As I mentioned, the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. I’m not saying that you couldn’t get the second shot in a different state, but I’m saying your second shot will be arriving where the first shot was given.”

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