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“Tears of joy”: Dr. Rai on the emotional reaction to COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Jan. 26, 2021 at 7:32 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Patients and health care workers are having an emotional reaction during COVID-19 vaccinations.

“So every patient that I saw walking out when I visited yesterday, you know, after their shot, I’m hoping that’s one less person that’s on our list of people who have passed away locally. So it felt really good. Saw a lot of tears of joy yesterday, and it’s neat to see that,” said Prevea Health President & CEO Dr. Ashok Rai.

Dr. Rai joined us on Action 2 News This Morning to discuss vaccine supply issues, scheduling frustrations, and answer your questions.

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

PREVIOUS DR. RAI SEGMENTS: https://www.wbay.com/health/drrai/

GUIDE TO SCHEDULING VACCINE APPOINTMENTS: https://www.wbay.com/2021/01/25/guide-to-making-an-appointment-for-covid-19-vaccine/

VACCINE SHORTAGE

“The allocation algorithm, the state and the people working at the state are doing their best. But when the federal government only gives you the same size pie every week, and there’s more vaccinators trying to do more throughout the state of Wisconsin, even in the rural areas, obviously you’re all sharing out of that same pie. We asked for more. We got a little bit less than we had gotten previously. We’re still good on giving a good amount of vaccines here over the next week. We’re scheduled to do 6,500 this week--most of which is going to be in Green Bay, but we obviously have sites throughout the state. But we could have done a lot more. We could have done thousands more. But it is what it is.

“This isn’t, once again, a state issue. This is a federal issue, and a production issue with Pfizer. We have to figure out where the math is here. They were supposed to have 100 million vaccines done, each company, by March. Here we are not even close to those numbers. So where is it? Is it in the production timeline? Is it in a warehouse? We have to be a lot more efficient from getting off the production and into arms, and get rid of all the middle people and the decision making, and just get it to the states as quickly as possible.

“Just doing some easy, basic math, by next week, we would have been able to handle--like I said 6,500 this week--10,000 first shots. Remember, we still get second shot volume. I don’t want to anybody to think we’re not getting the second shot. We’re getting that. Second shots are going well. But really, it’s all about the first shot, right, because that’s what all the math is based on, from there. Could have done maybe another 3,500 on the first shots. Hopefully we’ll get that in the coming weeks and be able to do 10,000 a week, and then grow from there.”

DAY ONE: 65-AND-OLDER

On Monday, the state officially kicked off vaccinations for people 65-and-older.

“Day one went well. Ninety-six percent of the people scheduled in that 6,500 are all over 65. So that feels good, and yesterday felt good. The reason, I think, it feels good in health care and obviously for the patients is, when you go back to March, it’s not like we haven’t lost people across all age ranges, but when we look at the majority of the people we’ve lost, the majority of people that have been in our ICUs, and this is across the country, not only here in Green Bay, have been 65-and-older. It’s been a population that’s fragile going in, and this is such a devastating disease and we’ve lost so many. So every patient that I saw walking out when I visited yesterday, you know, after their shot, I’m hoping that’s one less person that’s on our list of people who have passed away locally. So it felt really good. Saw a lot of tears of joy yesterday, and it’s neat to see that.

“I’ve had a lot of our staff come up to us, and I got a great note the other day, it’s one of the most rewarding days this staff member has ever worked in health care. You think of all the things we do. We save lives in the ICU. You help give birth, or help people when they’re giving birth. And you think about someone saying this is one of the most rewarding days of their career, giving a vaccination. That just goes to show how much emotion has built up in 10-to-11 months. How much loss that we’ve experienced. And what people are really feeling right now when they get that vaccine, and to be honest with you, when we give that vaccine.”

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS

“We did a little over 770 yesterday. I think we’re scheduled for 960 today--that’s just here in Green Bay--plus we have what’s going on in Eau Claire, and a couple other sites, and Sheboygan as well, today. So, it will be well over 1,000 a day. Like I said, I don’t think we’re going to rest until that’s over 2,000-a day or 3,000-a day. We won’t rest until everybody who wants a vaccine has a vaccine.”

APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING FRUSTRATIONS

“I’ll be the first to raise our hand and say we could do it better. We’re learning every day. The call centers are completely overwhelmed. The IT systems are holding their own, but obviously we can’t open up more appointments until more vaccine is available. So we’re just asking people for patience. As more vaccine is available, the schedules will open up. And that infrastructure will be able to handle it. And we need to keep finding different ways. Helping people log online, helping people with the phone lines. We’ll continue to do that.”

PATIENT QUOTE

“A gentleman approached our staff and said he was having a side effect from the vaccine, and quickly the staff says, what’s going on? He goes, ‘I have hope. For the first time in a long time, I have hope.’ Best side effect ever. We’re injecting hope.”

GETTING TOGETHER

As more people get vaccinated, how long before we can get together?

“It’s going to be a common question, and there’s, I think, a lot of different schools of thought. So I’ll just share my opinion on this. There’s no strict, fast rule on it. If you’re going to privately get together with say, two couples, four people that would get together, not in a public-type setting, you could likely get together and unmask at that point, if you’ve received both shots and you’re a couple weeks after both shots. So I think that’s the time period you need to wait. And I’m talking about a very small gathering. There’s still a risk, and you should know that. But the risk is significantly mitigated, then say going into a public setting unmasked, where there’s still a chance of greater spread. I think there’s an opportunity to start to ease up a little bit as more and more people get vaccinated. But we have to understand that transmission wasn’t one of the things that we looked at in the studies. That’s continuously being looked at. So it’s important to maintain masking while you’re in public, especially with unvaccinated people near you.

“Think about it’s a 95 percent efficacious vaccine, and if everybody’s in that percentage, and like I said, both shots in, a couple weeks out--five percent chance. It’s hard to know that risk because it really hasn’t been studied. So that’s just more of an educated guess. And once again, this is just my opinion on this. I don’t think we have enough experience to start giving formal recommendations. But if you were to ask me, is it risky? I’d say it’s less risky than maybe it was six weeks ago for you, so there is some mitigation being done.”

EPI-PENS

Do vaccination sites have epi-pens on hand in case of allergic reactions?

“They should have more than just epi-pens, to be honest with you. We have epi-pens, we have the ability to secure an airways, we have other medications for allergies. I think you should have a lot more than epi-pens. And then we have regular epi that we can draw up, actually, and inject into somebody. We staff ours like we would a clinic, like a real medical site, in case there was something wrong. That’s a super rare occurrence, but you don’t want to be that one and not be prepared. So you have to be prepared.

“We literally have a crash cart, if you know what that means in health care. We come in with the cart that has all the equipment that we would need if somebody’s doing poorly.”

DISABILITIES

Should people with disabilities and those who cannot mask be higher up on the vaccine priority list?

“It’s a great question. I think everybody, whether it’s people with disabilities or have issues with masking or have cancer are wondering why, where is my place on the list? It’s important to understand how the list was created. First you had to protect the infrastructure to take care of sick people. That was health care, fire, police. And then, who are the ones that are winding up in the ICU? Who are the ones that are dying? Who are the ones that are overwhelming the health care system? By majority--not a complete rule--but by majority, those were people that were 65-and-older. That’s 700,000 people in the state of Wisconsin. That’s going to take some time to get effectively vaccinated, especially based on the current vaccine supply, and hopefully that increases, and then other areas of risk will start to be addressed. Remember, if you can’t mask, the purpose of masking is to prevent that person from spreading the disease. So you want to make sure that person maintains their distance or isn’t in a situation where they can be in public. Some of the mitigation things we have are still going to continue when people are vaccinated. I know it’s frustrating for everybody. When is my turn on the list? Because everybody would want to be first on that list. Why wouldn’t you? We have to be patient. We’re not talking years now. We’re talking weeks and months.”

RURAL AREAS

What are the vaccine options for homebound people who live in rural areas?

“It’s a great question. We have this conversation with rural public health officials all the time. What can we do better? Because every day we want to do things better. The way that the current vaccine we have, Pfizer, is designed, it makes it very hard to take it on the road. Some places in the rural areas are getting Moderna. It’s going to be easier to do that, and public health is working on those solutions. There’s no perfect solution yet. Hopefully in some of the new vaccines are coming down the line, like we’ll see here in the next two-to-four weeks, it will be a lot easier. Once again, it’s a little bit about patience right now. If you’re homebound and you can get a ride safely--masking and maintaining distancing--this is where you can start to help people, if you can help people like that get there.”

VACCINE ETHICS

Was the vaccine made with fetal cells?

The Catholic Church has addressed it.

“It was really awesome of the bishops to be able to look at the research and come up with an opinion. Some vaccines have been developed over the years through descendants of fetal cells from an abortion. The two vaccines that we’re dealing with right now--Moderna and Pfizer--were not. Some of those cells, though, were used to test the efficacy of it. The bishops have stated, when they look at the evil of the past, and the risk of that being in the current situation as low, and then they look at what they would call the common good, getting the vaccine, protecting society. When they weigh the two of that, they recommended these two vaccines be given to Catholics going forward.”

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