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Dr. Rai discusses local COVID-19 vaccine rollout progress

Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 10:28 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - “I’d say it’s not going very slow. I mean, I understand that somebody else set a goal for us, but when you’re talking about health care, we never want to do anything that’s going to create harm.” That’s what Dr. Ashok Rai said about the local rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Northeast Wisconsin.

Dr. Rai joined us Thursday on Action 2 News This Morning to talk about how things are progressing with the vaccine, goals for inoculation, and that incident in Grafton in which hundreds of doses were intentionally left out of refrigeration.

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

Previous Dr. Rai segments: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

DID GRAFTON INCIDENT LEAD TO LOCAL SECURITY CHANGES?

An employee of Advocate Aurora Health admitted to intentionally leaving out hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“As we learn more, we will obviously adapt to make sure that doesn’t happen anywhere else. And we obviously feel bad about the situation. Our number-one goal is to make sure that the vaccines are secured and we’ve worked with that, making sure that there’s cameras there – that there’s actually temperature monitors and making sure nothing like that would happen, but obviously, when it’s an intentional act, you want to make sure that you’ve got drills and you understand what’s going on from a security standpoint. So we’ll work through that. It’s a sad situation and it can happen to anyone and we just want to make sure that we’re protecting the vaccine.”

IS THE VACCINE ROLLOUT GOING SLOWLY?

“I’d say it’s not going very slow. I mean, I understand that somebody else set a goal for us, but when you’re talking about health care, we never want to do anything that’s going to create harm. We want to make sure things are safe and they’re done correctly and that we learn every time. And that’s what we’ve always done in health care. We got this vaccine in a great amount of time – it’s faster than we’ve ever had. And to think about it getting approved on a Friday and shots going in on a Monday, and already having two million shots in within two weeks, that’s incredible progress. We’ve learned – now it’s time to continuously scale up. Every week we will do more and more and more. But it’s important to understand how much goes into vaccinating an individual. And it’s not just -- a vial, arriving in a refrigerator, pulling it out and putting it in an arm. There’s a ton of other things that go into that to make sure that our community stays safe. We want this done as quickly as possible, there’s no doubt about it. We just need to keep doing that every week, getting bigger.”

NOT A STANDARD VACCINE

“There’s a lot of nuances and there’s a lot of training involved. It’s not like we were able to train on the vaccine or do things before we got it. We learned about the emergency use authorization, what we needed to do with the patients, what we needed to do to keep them safe, how we draw it up from the vial, how it’s diluted, how many doses come out of a vial – and that even changed after it arrived to us – so there’s a lot of learning that’s going on right now so we can keep doing this bigger and bigger. And we are. We’ve done more every single day since the start. And we will continue to expand that. Right now, our rate-limiting step is just finding more space and more people, and we’re working through that and that’ll happen quickly.”

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND VACCINE ROLLOUT

“It’s important to understand, we worked on all of this, to get ready to go, while we were in the middle of a large surge, while most of our staff was focused on taking care of the patients in the hospital, or they themselves were getting sick, and we’ve gotten to this point. And we’re not making excuses – we’re letting everybody know why. And we will continue to get bigger and better as it happens. But yeah, it’s not the White House giving you the shot. It’s your health care provider. So we are the ones who are going to actually have to keep getting bigger.”

WHAT’S THE CURRENT GOAL?

“Our personal goal is to get through who we would identify as people that would normally come to us – community members, our own patients, a large group of that – those that are over the age of 16. And you look at that between now and July, and across Prevea statewide – how do we do that across the state. And so as you look at it now, what our cadence is on a weekly basis today – we probably have to quadruple that by the end of January, early February to meet that mark.”

PUBLIC HELP

“We don’t want lines. So as much of that paperwork that we give you ahead of time you can do electronically, as much as you can get us – all that information, when we do tell you it’s your turn – it’ll be kind of like the fast pass in an amusement park – you get to go in that line and go a little faster. So we’re gonna be relying on the public to make this smooth as well, so we can continue to vaccinate as many people as possible.”

WHEN WILL YOU KNOW WHEN IT’S YOUR TIME TO GET THE VACCINE?

“It’s a good question and I think the point of registering is just to make sure that you can make an appointment. Every health system is going do this differently. Every community is going to do this differently. Everybody has different resources. We don’t want to see lines like we’ve seen in other communities where people just wait in line and they’re disappointed at the end of the line. So you want to schedule based on appointments – based on doses you have. And it’s going to be a little bit of a push and a little bit of a pull. People calling to schedule an appointment, once they have been told that they’re in that class to get one and we’re able to give it. So say that the state of Wisconsin determined that the next phase would be everybody over the age of 75, which is what the CDC has recommended – the state has to say that. It will likely be your health care provider reaching out to you, that you can schedule and this is how you do it. And then you calling us at the same time if you haven’t heard and trying to schedule as well. I think the important thing to remember is – all of these phases are gonna overlap and that everybody needs to be a little bit patient, and when your phase is called up, then we will, through a methodical way, get people immunized – hopefully through appointments, so we’re not seeing what we’re seeing in other communities.”

IF I’M IN THE PROCESS OF GETTING THE SHINGLES VACCINE, SHOULD I HOLD OFF ON GETTING THE COVID VACCINE?

“It’s the flu shot.  It’s shingles. It’s pneumonia vaccine. It’s tetanus.  Whatever vaccine that you are due for or are trying to get.. what’s recommended through the emergency use authorization of the FDA with the two vaccines that have been authorized so far, is that there’s a 14-day window on either side of that COVID vaccine that you’re not vaccinated with anything else so as long as you can schedule it like that and understand that you may be due for the COVID vaccine, waiting four-or-five days to get into that window isn’t going to be too tragic at that point, but it’s important to keep that 14-days on either side.”

THE NEW COVID VARIANT IS IN THE UNITED STATES. SHOULD WE STILL BRING KIDS BACK INTO SCHOOLS IN JANUARY?

“You know, I think there’s a lot that has to be learned about the new variant.  We know it’s not going to be more aggressive on the patient, but is going to spread more aggressively. Obviously, any kind of setting, any congregate gathering is going to create greater opportunity for spread, whether it’s this variant or the variant we’ve been dealing with every day, and for all we know we’ve been dealing with this variant for months.  We still have to culture it and see what’s going on within our own lab tests, which is happening every day so as we go forward.  You know, I think the most important thing to remember is to control this variant is the same as it was to control the first variant or the dozens of variants that are probably in our environment and that’s physically distancing, masking, and washing your hands.  Same exact thing.  We can control it.  It’s just important to understand if you’re in an environment, where those good things aren’t happening and you have this variant enter, it’s like an automatic super spreader event.

“So, if anything right now, we just need to double down on the distancing and masking and that shouldn’t prevent schools, if they’re doing it right.  What schools really need to look at is what’s going on in the overall community.  So if we do everything right, then we can get kids safely back.”

COULD THE NEW VARIANT BE IN WISCONSIN?

“You know, given what we know about the variant and it’s spread and given that statistics are the way they are, and the way we’ve seen travel increase over the last month, I’d be more shocked if it’s not everywhere than it’s only in two states.”

DO WE TEST DIFFERENTLY FOR THE VARIANT?

“Not that we know of.  It’s been tested and come back positive through our normal PCR and Antigen testing so that’s been pretty accurate. What we’ve seen so far with the variant, I think it’s important to know that our state lab here in Wisconsin along with state labs in all 50 states are looking for that variant.  As they get samples, they’re randomly culturing and trying to see where it is.”

PREGNANCY AND VACCINE

A viewer who is four months pregnant wants to know if she can get the COVID vaccine.

“It’s obviously a very sensitive and difficult situation for pregnancy. The most important thing to understand is that COVID-19 is bad when you’re pregnant.  More risk factors, pre-term labor, damage to the mother in this process, so being safe and not getting COVID in pregnancy is a priority and that’s what’s been guiding the recommendations from many OBs, who say you should get vaccinated.  The most important thing to understand is every pregnancy and every patient is different.  You should be having that conversation with your OB.”  

DOES THE VACCINE PERMANENTLY CHANGE YOUR DNA?

“You know, it’s a great question because we kind of want to put it to rest.  So the mRNA enters the cell, likely the muscle cells in your arm and it goes into what’s called the cytoplasm of the cell, which is that outer area of the cell.  It doesn’t go into your nucleus, which contains the DNA, so it binds to a ribosome--it doesn’t to DNA. Then it’s destroyed right after so it can’t bind to anything else, so it does not bind or change your body’s DNA.”

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